NTIA Spectrum Policy Symposium: Spectrum, collaboration and the global tech race

The U.S. is in global race for leadership in wireless technologies, and the implementation of the country’s new National Spectrum Strategy will impact the direction of spectrum policy for decades.

That strategy and its implementation is the focus of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s annual Spectrum Policy Symposium, held today in Washington, D.C.

“The U.S. is engaged in a high-stakes, must-win competition. It’s critical that we focus on this—on spectrum, on emerging technologies—because there are adversarial nations all across the globe who are challenging us on all of these fronts,” Don Graves, Deputy Secretary for the U. S. Department of Commerce, told the audience. “And spectrum is at the center of all of it.”

Spectrum was discussed as both a key economic driver for the current and future economy, and a cornerstone of national security.

In November of last year, the Biden administration has proposed a long-awaited spectrum pipeline of five candidate bands for near-term study and development, totaling 2,786 megahertz with an emphasis on midband spectrum and bolstering technology for dynamic sharing of spectrum, plus an outline for modernizing spectrum policy to be more cohesive while expanding wireless broadband access, whether based on land, in the air, or in space.

The candidate bands range 3.1 GHz to 37.6 GHz, with all but one of them under 20 GHz, and are a mix of federal bands and shared federal/non-federal bands. They will be studied “for a variety of uses, including terrestrial wireless broadband, innovative space services, and unmanned aviation and other autonomous vehicle operations,” according to the strategy document.

But the challenge facing policy makers is complex, and the pressure of global competition, (from China in particular) means that years of debate and study threaten the U.S.’ ability to be a technological, policy and economic leader.

“Studying bands is a good first step, but it is only the beginning,” said Anna Gomez, FCC Commissioner and leader of the recent U.S. delegation to the World Radiocommunications Conference. She added: “This process needs to move with alacrity.” Tops on the list of priorities, she continued, should be restoring the Federal Communications Commission’s legal authority to auction spectrum, which was allowed to lapse nearly a year ago and means that no spectrum auctions are on the horizon. Gomez also echoed the National Spectrum Strategy’s position that spectrum-sharing has to be in the mix as bands are considered for reallocation. “As we have less and less new spectrum that we can identify, we are going to need to continue to coordinate even more closely to identify the best path forward for managing this resource. There is limited greenfield spectrum left. As consumer demand for wireless devices grows and new wireless uses are developed, identifying spectrum for exclusive-use licenses will become more and more difficult. … We can try to identify new spectrum, but we need to acknowledge that sharing needs to be part of our toolbox going forward,” Gomez said, adding that “Dynamic spectrum sharing approaches will be key.”

Collaboration will also be key, she said—as will establishing an “obligation to share” for all stakeholders. “We cannot expect private-sector innovators to invest billions of dollars in spectrum subject to sharing, unless it can be delivered with clear reliable obligations by all parties to the sharing arrangements,” Gomez said.

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