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Supporting Innovative Approaches to Spectrum Sharing

March 11, 2013 by Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling

This article is cross-posted on the OSTP blog

The President’s strategy for expanding the capacity of high-speed wireless broadband services across the Nation may get a boost from a new Defense Department Initiative to fund research and development of innovative new approaches to spectrum sharing.

Wireless technology continues to drive innovation and productivity in the United States, fueling economic growth and creating jobs.  By most measures, the United States leads the world in the development and deployment of cutting-edge wireless technologies.  More subscribers to advanced 4G wireless broadband live in the United States than in the rest of the world combined.   U.S. companies dominate the market for smartphone operating systems and online apps.  And the wireless industry contributes hundreds of billions of dollars to America’s gross domestic product.

Building on U.S. leadership and promoting even greater economic growth requires that the Nation make ever more efficient use of spectrum, the airwaves on which wireless services ride.  Consumers are demanding more spectrum for smartphones and tablets, as are stakeholders from other sectors of the economy and society, including healthcare, transportation, and education.   Many critical Government services require spectrum as well, including air traffic control systems, wireless surveillance by law enforcement, weather monitoring, and military combat training.  Ensuring adequate spectrum to support the expected growth in all of these commercial and non-commercial uses poses  technical challenges and will require trade-offs.

Under one strategy for maximizing spectrum efficiency, commercial broadband providers are permitted to share spectrum bands that otherwise would be allocated for exclusive Government use, or vice versa; this approach can increase the productivity  of a band that was designated for a specific purpose decades ago but is underutilized today.  Spectrum sharing can take a number of forms, some of which are technologically mature and others of which are still developing, as detailed in last year’s report from the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth.

To stimulate investment in more advanced forms of spectrum sharing, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting innovative research proposals aimed at efficient and reliable sharing of spectrum between radar and communications systems.  Consistent with its history of promoting groundbreaking technological breakthroughs for both military and commercial use, DARPA is seeking “innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances” in spectrum sharing, specifically in the spectrum bands that are most amenable to broadband and communications services.  The program may fund multi-year projects designed either to significantly modify existing radar and communications systems or to unveil new system architectures redesigned from the ground up.

Sharing is just one tool for promoting more robust and efficient broadband networks; full maximization of spectrum may also require broader policy and regulatory changes.  But any such changes must be informed by the best technological thinking and know-how.  DARPA’s program generated an enthusiastic response from potential participants who packed the room at a Proposer’s Day event last week.   We encourage qualified innovators and entrepreneurs from across industry, academia, and Government offices to review the DARPA solicitation and consider submitting proposals by the April 9 due date.  We congratulate DARPA for once again stepping up to support the potential for game-changing technologies in the field of spectrum sharing.

Lawrence Strickling is the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and the Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Tom Power is the U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.