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'No Easy Bands'

Some Bands Seen Likely for 5G Left Out of National Spectrum Strategy

The Biden administration released its long-awaited national spectrum strategy and a presidential memorandum on modernizing U.S. spectrum policy at a White House ceremony Monday. The plan identifies the 3.1-3.45, 5.03-5.091, 7.125-8.4, 18.1-18.6 and 37.0-37.6 GHz bands for further study by NTIA over the next two years for potential repurposing (see 2311130007). But the plan omits other bands thought to be in the federal cross-hairs. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr slammed the strategy.

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Among the bands not mentioned are the 4.4-4.94 GHz band, set aside for 5G in other nations, and 13 GHz, though the latter band may have been left out since the focus is on federal spectrum and most operations there are non-federal, industry officials said. One question headed into the World Radiocommunication Conference, which starts next week, is whether the U.S. position on bands for future studies for 5G includes only 3.1-3.3 and 13 GHz, officials said.

The administration’s plan for further study of 3.1-3.45 GHz could signal partial rejection of some of the DOD’s conclusions in favor of shared use in its report on the band transmitted to the Commerce Department in September (see 2309280087), industry officials said. The 5.03-5.091 GHz band has been an ongoing focus of the FCC for drone communications (see 2303100028).

After nearly three years of study, the Biden Administration does not commit to freeing up even a single MHz of spectrum,” Carr said: “Instead, they are announcing that they will continue studying the issue for years to come. While America is standing still, our global competitors and adversaries are passing us by.”

Spectrum is crowded and the demands are growing, said Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology. “It’s not really surprising that the discussions about how we use the spectrum can be quite contentious and pretty difficult,” she said.

There are no easy bands that don’t have current users,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security advisor-cyber & emerging technology. The White House brought federal users together to identify spectrum for “in-depth study of current usage to determine what could be used for efficiently and/or shared,” she said. Neuberger said the two-year analysis that now starts is “the most ambitious study goal to date.” The release of the strategy ahead of the WRC was “very much intentional,” she said.

Demands on spectrum “are growing at a breakneck pace as wireless technology expands and transforms so much in our economy and modern life,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. Making “smart choices” on spectrum is critical “if we want wireless technology to continue to grow,” she said. “We need a clear commitment to study specific bands” and the administration is putting more than 2,700 MHz “on the table,” she added.

While most of the focus will likely be on the bands discussed, other parts of the strategy and memorandum are also critical, said NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson. “We’re going to embark on a fundamental reassessment of how the government and private sector coordinate on spectrum,” he said. The administration wants to uncover problems earlier and “resolve the kinds of conflicts that we have at times missed in the past,” he said.

The strategy also calls for research on dynamic sharing and other evolving technologies, Davidson said. “We have to make better use of the airwaves that we have and technology will help,” he said. The strategy also calls for a national spectrum workforce plan. The administration will release an implementation plan within four months, he said.

House Communications Subcommittee ranking member Doris Matsui, D-Calif., praised the strategy, which “ensures that the federal government remains a driving force to advance U.S. leadership in spectrum.” The U.S. “must remain the pacesetter for global innovation, harmonization, and standards setting ... to stay ahead of our global peers,” she said in a statement. “We are at a pivotal juncture -- the global race to 5 and 6G is still white hot, satellite broadband service is taking off, and Wi-Fi continues to create massive opportunities for Americans. That’s why I have been unwavering in my calls that the federal government must speak with a unified voice on spectrum policy.”

Industry mostly applauded release of the plan.

'Critical First Step'

The release of a strategy “is a critical first step, and we fully support their goal of making the 7/8 GHz band available for 5G wireless broadband and their decision to re-study all options for future full-power commercial access to the lower 3 GHz band,” said CTIA President Meredith Baker. "In order to meet growing consumer demand for 5G, close America’s widening 5G spectrum deficit and counter China’s global ambitions, America’s wireless networks need 1500 MHz of additional full power, licensed spectrum within the next ten years,” she said.

We are concerned that further studies of the lower 3 GHz band could set aside the substantial contributions of the two‑year, multi-stakeholder study that already occurred, and threaten and delay the adoption of viable spectrum sharing approaches that will advance innovation and competition for consumers,” NCTA said.

The hard work of this strategy will come in the implementation phase,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association President Patrick Halley. The strategy “rightfully affirms NTIA’s leadership in spectrum management and the study of bands to free spectrum,” a T-Mobile spokesperson emailed: “It is critical that this effort includes making spectrum available for exclusive licensed service.”

The administration is right to focus on “a more collaborative planning process and new technologies aimed at facilitating dynamic spectrum sharing in underutilized bands where it is feasible,” emailed Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America. “The next generation of Wi-Fi will rely on further extending open public access to unlicensed spectrum,” he said.

With the publication of the strategy, the U.S. “is now officially in the backseat when it comes to driving global wireless innovation,” emailed former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. No spectrum auction is announced or contemplated “and the strategy puts in doubt the very concept of a spectrum auction by repeating the word 'sharing' 37 times and clearing -- not at all. Instead, the big reveal of this strategy is that the U.S. government will study spectrum bands over the next few years and maybe, hopefully take limited action after that. ... Bureaucratic slow-walking is not a recipe for success in the wireless world."

In identifying spectrum bands for in-depth study, NTIA evaluated input received through a public-facing process from a variety of sources, including terrestrial wireless broadband providers, the Wi-Fi and unlicensed wireless community, satellite- and space-based service providers, Tribal Nations, academics, public interest groups, and others as to current and future spectrum needs,” the strategy says: “NTIA also reviewed information from its Federal agency partners on current and future spectrum requirements.”

In commentary on 3.1-3.45 GHz, the strategy says, “Additional studies will explore dynamic spectrum sharing and other opportunities for private-sector access in the band, while ensuring DOD and other Federal mission capabilities are preserved, with any necessary changes.” On 7.125-8.4, it warns there are “a variety of mission-critical Federal operations in this band (including Fixed, Fixed Satellite, Mobile, Mobile Satellite, Space Research, Earth Exploration Satellite, and Meteorological Satellite services) that will make it challenging to repurpose portions of the band while protecting incumbent users from harmful interference.”