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Call for More-Efficient Use

Smart Cities Seen Adding to the Spectrum Demand

Smart city applications are joining the list of factors driving the need for more licensed and unlicensed spectrum, spectrum and smart city experts said Wednesday during a Broadband Breakfast panel discussion. Beyond more spectrum, smart cities will require a lot of spectrum sharing and maximized use of existing allocations, they said. There isn't one route to smart cities, and the spectrum isn't needed for a single purpose, said Richard Bernhardt, Wireless ISP Association vice president-spectrum and industry. Cities rely particularly heavily on unlicensed spectrum for smart city applications, said Ryan Johnston, Next Century Cities senior policy counsel. He said municipal governments are often left out of spectrum strategy and policy discussions, even though they are becoming big consumers of spectrum. He said they should be at the table for spectrum sharing and allocation discussions.

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Wi-Fi is playing a sizable role in cities' management of public services, said WifiForward Executive Director Mary Brown. She said there's no end to Wi-Fi demand, thus driving the need for more unlicensed spectrum, with the 7 GHz band a particular focus.

Commercial wireless networks such as 5G also can play a role in smart city applications, said Scott Bergmann, CTIA senior vice president-regulatory affairs. He said the commercial wireless sector, also in need of spectrum, faces a big challenge in the lack of a pipeline for licensed spectrum. Traffic on commercial wireless networks grew 39%, Bergmann said, with the expiration of the FCC's auction authority a huge challenge to replenishing that pipeline. He said the hope is when Congress renews that authority, it also makes spectrum -- particularly midband -- available for auction.

Beyond more spectrum is the need for its more efficient use, said Bernhardt. Smart city applications, ubiquitous broadband, connected cars and industrial IoT are pushing the need for maximizing available spectrum, he said. He pointed to the citizens broadband radio service spectrum-sharing regime as a successful experiment.

Speakers questioned the dedication of bands to specific applications. Bernhardt pointed to the lack of use of the 5.9 GHz band by the automotive industry for vehicle-to-vehicle needs, as well as questions about how effectively the 4.9 GHz band is used for public safety. He said while there typically is a good purpose behind dedicating bands to a specific use, they often don't get heavily utilized. Johnston said applying specific use cases to bands undercuts future allocation discussions.

The spectrum and smart city experts said one challenge of smart city spectrum needs is diversity. IoT applications are relatively small consumers of data and typically not always on, unlike commercial wireless networks, Bernhardt said. Johnston said there's a question about gauging a city's spectrum needs as it moves to smart city uses, such as intelligent traffic lights and crosswalks.

The U.S. can improve its spectrum sharing, Bergmann said. He said while sharing is getting a lot of policy attention, commercial wireless networks are based largely on licensed spectrum. He said the certainty that comes with that exclusive use is necessary to incentivize network investments. Allocating spectrum, such as 5G, to meet short-term needs is necessary, even as sharing is also pursued, said Bergmann.