DoD, NTIA set for a spectrum-sharing ‘moonshot’

‘All the greenfield is gone’: Federal government wants a 12-18 month push with industry, academia to develop cutting-edge sharing tech

The Department of Defense and NTIA are spearheading a dynamic spectrum-sharing framework “moonshot” with industry and academia to develop and test cutting-edge dynamic spectrum-sharing approaches within 12-18 months, hoping to provide a solid path to opening up the lower 3 GHz band and establish technology that will enable sharing across other bands as well.

“This kind of hearkens to what we can do as a nation, the big challenges we have, that we can face … the big technological problems,” said Department of Defense Chief Information Officer John Sherman during an event in Washington, D.C. on Monday that was hosted by CTIA. He added: “Spectrum is finite. All the greenfield is gone. And as we look at, how we dominate economically, put our competitors back on their heels—particularly authoritarian nations that maybe don’t play by the same rules … . It’s on us … to figure out how we make this work.”

If the U.S. is able to develop the foundational technology for adaptive coexistence of government and non-governmental networks and users across various spectrum bands, speakers at the event emphasized that the capability would be an enormous advantage for both military and economic competition.

“We get this right on 3.1-3.45 … we can unlock other parts of the spectrum as well. And this is something our competitors cannot do,” Sherman said. “Think about what this does for us across other parts of the spectrum, to be able to open it up and operate in a way that we haven’t been able to operate.”

Sherman said that the technological challenge would be “tough,” and that all sides will have to be willing to give and take. “We’re all going to be a little bit uncomfortable with this, and … I say, good on us, let’s do it,” he said. “If industry is feeling too great, or DoD, or others, then we’re probably not doing it right. We’re going to have to challenge each other, we’re going to have to push each other and we’re going to have to focus in a way that we have not focused.”

The U.S. is also up against a wall, so to speak, as it looks for ways to both maintain and evolve military uses of spectrum and still enable commercial and economic technology leadership in wireless—which, as speakers at the event said, go hand-in-hand to support the United States as a global power.

“The challenge, of course, is … that we are out of spectrum. Virtually every desirable band at this point has non-federal users, federal users and in many cases, both,” said Matthew Pearl, director and special advisor for emerging technologies on the White House National Security Council. “And that creates a real challenge, but we simply can’t fail to use spectrum more efficiently. And the U.S. government, which is the biggest user of spectrum, must lead the way in solving these issues.” He noted that the Biden administration has put together a spectrum pipeline of a proposed 2,700 megahertz of spectrum for in-depth, near-term study for potential reallocation—while it also laid out plans for this spectrum-sharing moonshot.

Pearl shared a number of aspects of the moonshot effort, which seeks to develop a next-generation spectrum-sharing capability, including a prototype system; improve upon CBRS and update propagation models and spectrum sensing; consider the different economic incentives that would come along with different sharing approaches and still make spectrum-related investment worthwhile for the telecom industry. He also specifically said that the work also needs to increase the capability of existing commercial networks to share, potentially with integrated base station sensors to detect incumbent operations and also possibly by leveraging Open RAN and the RAN Intelligent Controller, so that new technology could be rolled out quickly and efficiently and ensure coexistence among services.

The spectrum-sharing system will require a foundation of a federal incumbent informing platform to which federal users would report their spectrum use (the funding for which is included in the current proposed federal budget, Pearl said), but the sharing system would also have to be sufficiently secure and obfuscate sensitive federal activities; it will have to be national; and the moonshot also has to include running exercises in order to get real-world data on coexistence and interference, both between federal users and federal/non-federal users, at various power levels.

The event on Monday was not only an announcement but an organizational meeting of sorts, with speakers urging industry and academic experts to apply for the necessary permissions to be part of the process and share related information. Another meeting is set to follow next month.

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