Remarks by Assistant Secretary Strickling at Innovative Spectrum Sharing Technology Day

November 05, 2013

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
“The Spectrum Sharing Paradigm”
NTIA/NIST Innovative Spectrum Sharing Technology Day, Washington, DC
November 5, 2013

-As prepared for delivery-

Thank you, Dr. Gallagher, for your remarks and for co-hosting today’s event with NTIA.  Over the past few years, NTIA and NIST have formed a unique and important partnership within the Commerce Department to take our telecommunications research, development, testing, and evaluation efforts to the next level.  Thanks to the leadership of Dr. Gallagher, this partnership goes beyond the new Center for Advanced Communications in Boulder that he talked about and the spectrum issues that we are discussing here today to include our joint Public Safety Communications Research program in Boulder, Colorado and NIST’s cybersecurity initiatives.

I also join Dr. Gallagher in welcoming all of you to our first ever “Innovative Spectrum Sharing Technology Day.”  Today’s program will showcase cutting-edge technologies aimed at satisfying the nation’s surging demand for wireless services through sharing.  Spectrum sharing is the new reality, and while we are demonstrating here today that the concept is not just “pie-in-the-sky,” we want to encourage everyone in the industry to make continued research development in spectrum sharing a top priority.  Our long-term spectrum needs, both for industry and for government agencies, can only be met through sharing and we need a top-to-bottom commitment from everyone to make it happen.

Finding ways to use spectrum more efficiently is the centerpiece of President Obama’s spectrum policies and last year’s spectrum report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).  As President Obama said in his June 2010 memorandum on “Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution:”

This new era in global technology leadership will only happen if there is adequate spectrum available to support the forthcoming myriad of wireless devices, networks, and applications that can drive the new economy.  To do so, we can use our American ingenuity to wring abundance from scarcity, by finding ways to use spectrum more efficiently.  We can also unlock the value of otherwise underutilized spectrum and open new avenues for spectrum users to derive value through the development of advanced, situation-aware spectrum-sharing technologies

This past summer, President Obama issued a second directive to federal agencies that recognized that spectrum sharing can enhance efficiency among all users and can expedite commercial access to additional spectrum bands.  Accordingly, he directed the federal agencies to take a number of steps to accelerate shared access to spectrum, which the next panel will discuss in more detail.

NTIA is already making good progress to free up spectrum across several bands for new and innovative broadband applications and devices.  Working with the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies, we are getting closer every day to realizing the President’s goal to repurpose 500 megahertz of federal and nonfederal spectrum to wireless broadband use by 2020. 

NTIA has formally recommended or otherwise identified for reallocation up to 405 MHz of federal spectrum and with Chairman Wheeler at the helm, we expect the FCC to bring spectrum to the wireless market from several sources.  These bands include the 5 GHz band which can be used for high-speed Wi-Fi devices; the 3.5 GHz band where the FCC is exploring database-managed, shared broadband uses that will open up new spectrum sharing opportunities; and the 1755 MHz band, in which mobile providers will offer the next generation of global consumer wireless services.

But we are not stopping there.  NTIA is continuing to seek out additional federal bands below 6 GHz.  We are looking at bands that are good candidates for shared access, reflecting the new reality of spectrum management.  We simply have no choice.  Federal and nonfederal users alike need to come to the table and work with us to achieve improved efficiencies by maximizing sharing of our valuable spectrum resources.  The Administration is committed to solving the significant and complex challenges that industry stakeholders and federal agencies face in achieving the more efficient use of spectrum.  This commitment, which we highlight today, is centered on developing the necessary technology innovations and policy initiatives to support a new and more collaborative way of doing business for federal spectrum.

Spectrum sharing is not really a new concept.  In fact, spectrum sharing dates back over 100 years to the early days of radio.  Congress tasked Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce, to prevent or minimize interference with communication between wireless telegraph stations.  One of the first regulations provided an explicit sharing mechanism granting priority for distress signals from ships: 

All stations [were] required to give absolute priority to signals and radiograms relating to ships in distress; to cease all sending on hearing a distress signal; and, except when engaged in answering or aiding the ship in distress, to refrain from sending until all signals and radiograms relating thereto are completed.

Another one of these original radio regulations mandated time-based sharing by requiring a “division of time” that established a quiet period for certain private or commercial shore transmitters “during the first fifteen minutes of each hour.”  Naval or military stations were then granted those “first fifteen minutes of each hour” to transmit their “signals or radiograms.”  This provision also included a geographic-sharing component in that it only applied “[a]t important seaports and at all other places where naval or military and private or commercial shore stations operate in such close proximity that interference with the work of naval and military stations cannot be avoided” through other, technical means.

Another history lesson, though, may lead us to be more patient than Herbert Hoover was back in the 1920s and to be more confident of technological innovations.  Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce, convened a series of conferences beginning with all of the players from the nascent, but chaotic, radio broadcasting industry and various government agencies.  At this first radio conference, Secretary Hoover made a bold prediction about the future of wireless telecommunications when he told the attendees that “the use of the radio telephone for communication between single individuals as in the case of the ordinary telephone is a perfectly hopeless notion.”  He saw radio as being limited to mass broadcasting to reach large groups of people to the exclusion of one-to-one communication.

Now, Hoover failed miserably at predicting the future of wireless communications and the lesson we should all draw from that is that none of us will ever quite know where technology will take us in the end.  So, when someone suggests that something like dynamic spectrum sharing is a “perfectly hopeless notion,” we should take that suggestion with a dose of healthy skepticism.

But we do have a lot of work to do.  Over the past year, the collaboration between industry and agency experts to evaluate the reallocation of the 1755-1850 MHz spectrum band taught us that all of the key stakeholders need to be actively engaged across a range of regulatory and technology evaluation activities.  And we have a number of practical issues to solve as demonstrated by the work of these teams in support of our Commerce Spectrum Advisory Committee (CSMAC). 

One is the issue of information sharing.  While the CSMAC working groups accomplished all that they could in the short time that they had, these efforts fostered new federal/commercial relationships and produced unprecedented information sharing.  However, we need to address the challenges associated with sharing agency information and data that is not releasable to the public because it contains classified or non-public information.  At the same time, industry representatives face similar challenges with sharing proprietary and other confidential information with NTIA, other federal agencies, and among themselves that would enable more informed recommendations.  Ultimately, the Department of Defense and industry representatives negotiated non-disclosure agreements to exchange information about the characteristics of each other’s wireless systems.  However, we need a simpler and more predictable approach to this problem and we plan to explore alternative approaches at an upcoming lessons-learned session with the CSMAC working group leaders and participants on December 13, 2013.

The second issue is the need for research and testing.  With both the evaluation of the 1755-1850 MHz band and the testing of the compatibility of GPS with LightSquared’s proposed terrestrial system, we faced a range of challenges to garner the necessary resources and access to our national laboratory and test range capabilities.  To address these challenges, the President has tasked NIST and NTIA, in collaboration with other federal agencies, to publish an inventory of federal test facilities and to develop standards, and best practices to enhance research, development, testing, and evaluation of spectrum sharing technologies.  In cooperation with the Wireless Spectrum Research and Development Senior Steering Group, we published the initial inventory in September, which is available at Data.gov.  As Dr. Gallagher talked about, our new joint Center for Advanced Communications in Boulder will provide the infrastructure and resources necessary for effective collaboration among industry, academia and government to address difficult testing and evaluation issues for spectrum sharing.

Herbert Hoover’s first radio regulations marked the start of the basic methods of sharing the radio spectrum by exploiting the time, space, and frequency dimensions of radio waves.  Now, more than 100 years later, we find ourselves moving toward new, but similar, multi-dimensional models of spectrum sharing that use modern technology to help do it as densely, dynamically and efficiently as possible.  The challenge to all of you today is to apply yourselves to moving forward to implement sharing.  Thank you.