US Spectrum Requirements: Projections and Trends - Introduction to Part 1




The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is the Executive Branch agency principally responsible for developing and articulating domestic and international telecommunications policy. NTIA acts as the principal advisor to the President on telecommunications policies pertaining to the Nation's economic and technological advancement and to the regulation of the telecommunications industry. Accordingly, NTIA conducts studies and makes recommendations regarding telecommunications policies and presents Executive Branch views on telecommunications matters to the Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the public.

NTIA is responsible for managing the Federal Government's use of the radio spectrum. Management of the spectrum for the private sector, including state and local governments, is the responsibility of the FCC. With the proliferation of radio-based technologies, the management and use of radio spectrum in the United States has lately become increasingly important, as reflected in current Federal legislation.[EN1] Congress found that telecommunications and information are vital to the public welfare, national security, and competitiveness of the United States, and that technological advances in the telecommunications and information fields make it imperative that the United States maintain effective national and international policies and programs capable of taking advantage of these continued advancements.[EN2]

The telecommunications service industry is an important factor in our national economy. More than 2000 companies and 875,000 employees make up the U.S. telecommunications service industry.[EN3] Operating revenues for 1994 are expected to exceed $180 billion in domestic services and an additional $12 billion in international services.[EN4] The expansion of telecommunications services is expected to continue, particularly with the introduction of personal communications services (PCS).

A large part of the telecommunications infrastructure depends on the use of the radio frequency spectrum. Shipments of spectrum-dependent equipment and systems are estimated to be in excess of $53 billion for 1994.[EN5] The cellular telephone industry alone is estimated to have approximately 19 million subscribers, with recent 12-month revenues of about $12.6 billion.[EN6] The spectrum is used in a variety of ways, from garage door openers to satellite-based intercontinental communications systems. Radiocommunication services, such as radio and television broadcasting, satellite systems, and the many kinds of mobile services, depend heavily on spectrum use. Aside from commercial use, the spectrum is also used to support the various missions of the Federal Government, including national defense.

NTIA is the primary Federal agency working toward the definition and development of the National Information Infrastructure (NII), commonly referred to as "the information superhighway." The NII will be a network linking people, businesses, schools, hospitals, communities and governments, allowing them to communicate and exchange information using voice, video and data with computers, telephones, radios, and other devices. The concept of the NII encompasses a wide range of telecommunications equipment, services, and transmission media. The technology encompassed by the NII includes, among other things, electronic cameras, scanners, computers, switches, televisions, optical fiber transmission lines, microwave links, car telephones, pagers and fax machines. The NII will integrate and interconnect these physical components to provide a nationwide information conduit, accessible by everyone. Although the NII is not a discrete telecommunication service, the increase in information flow, particularly to and from mobile users, will ultimately result in an increased requirement for radio spectrum to support the various mobile and fixed service interconnections. The role that wireless technology will play in the NII has not been specifically examined, and therefore unique spectrum requirements for NII have not been determined.

Recently, commercial demand for access to the radio spectrum has outstripped spectrum availability in many major U.S. markets. Leading the demand for additional spectrum allocations are the various high-technology mobile systems, such as cellular telephone, mobile-satellite systems interconnecting to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), a variety of wireless data and voice systems, and the emerging PCS. The further expansion of the telecommunications industry depends to a significant degree on the efficient allocation of spectrum to meet new, additional requirements.

The Federal Government also has large requirements for spectrum use to support the many and varied missions of the Federal agencies. Only a small percentage of Federal spectrum is used in support of administrative government functions; most is used to support unique missions of direct benefit to U.S. citizens. A partial list of missions supported by Federal spectrum uses includes national defense, protection of the President and foreign officials, assuring public safety of air and water transportation, Federal law enforcement, disaster relief, protection of national resources, ensuring the security of power generation and nuclear material, the health and well-being of our military veterans, and the efficient operation of our postal service.

Federal spectrum requirements, while not increasing as rapidly as commercial requirements, increase with population growth, and are often heaviest near centers of high population densities. Recognizing that continued economic growth in the telecommunications industry and other businesses is dependent on adequate spectrum to support new radiocommunications systems, the future use of the spectrum must be carefully planned so it can adequately support both commercial interests and the critical missions of the Federal agencies.

Strategic Spectrum Planning

An NTIA spectrum policy report, published in 1991, recommended that NTIA and the FCC undertake a long-range spectrum planning effort that would forecast spectrum usage up to 15 years into the future.[EN7] NTIA implemented this recommendation in the form of a Fiscal Year 1992 Initiative to establish a strategic spectrum planning program, but limited the spectrum forecast to a ten-year period. With the approval of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Congress appropriated funds for NTIA's strategic spectrum planning effort. Congress tasked NTIA to provide strategic national spectrum planning to promote the effective and efficient use of the spectrum so that both near-term and long-term spectrum needs of the Federal Government and the private sector can be met. Strategic spectrum planning, in this context, involves identifying a limited number of spectrum-use issues that require the attention of national-level spectrum-use regulators, and developing a spectrum plan for implementation.

NTIA's Strategic Spectrum Planning Program is divided into three phases: the definition of long-term spectrum requirements, the development of spectrum availability and planning options, and the development of spectrum allocation implementation plans. This report completes Phase I of the program. Phase II, the spectrum availability report, is expected to be completed approximately one year from the date of this report. At present, most spectrum planning is relatively short-term and generally reactive, occurring as a result of the requests of potential spectrum users. However, the efficient management and use of the electromagnetic spectrum requires a regulatory focus resulting from long-term planning if the spectrum resource is to adequately support national goals and objectives. Long-term planning can provide a framework upon which effective spectrum management is built, ensuring that spectrum is efficiently allocated for the constantly evolving radio spectrum needs. Spectrum planning also facilitates decision-making by providing a basis for the practical consideration and evaluation of several alternative courses of action. However, long-term spectrum planning must be sufficiently comprehensive to accommodate the national spectrum demands of both known and expected radiocommunications systems. These spectrum demands are generated by private sector economic incentives, nationwide demand for advanced telecommunications services, and growth in Federal Government telecommunications to support its ever-increasing public services.

Spectrum planning results in revision of the National Table of Frequency Allocations, national positions regarding the agendas of international radio conferences, and revisions to spectrum regulations, policies, and standards. Recent spectrum legislation has emphasized the importance of national spectrum planning.[EN8] Future meetings required under that legislation between the Department of Commerce's Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and the Chairman of the FCC will focus on spectrum planning and spectrum use efficiency.

Currently, some critical frequency bands are congested in several major U.S. markets, making spectrum planning a pressing issue for NTIA and the FCC. If further spectrum congestion is to be avoided, then spectrum use forecasting must be in the "tool box" of spectrum planners. Spectrum use forecasting is, at present, a new activity that strives to anticipate spectrum use requests by investigating telecommunications technology, spectrum use history, and other leading indicators. Although an imperfect science, spectrum use forecasting may become critical to the long-range accommodation of radiocommunication systems vital to the national economy, national defense, and the high quality of life expected in the United States.

Strategic spectrum planning requires a base of information that includes political, technical and economic information. As one avenue to acquire this data, NTIA issued a Notice of Inquiry[EN9] in June 1992, requesting comments from both the private sector and Federal Government agencies regarding future spectrum requirements for up to 15 years into the future. The Notice also requested information on technology and technology trends that may impact spectrum use in the future. Sixty-six private and public sector entities submitted comments on the inquiry; fourteen submitted reply comments.[EN10]

As stated in our Notice, NTIA believes that improved spectrum planning by both NTIA and the FCC can ease the transition from the current spectrum management system to one that relies more on market principles, by permitting modifications of existing spectrum allocations in a non-disruptive manner. In addition to making spectrum available for emerging, state-of-the-art commercial uses, spectrum planning also helps to ensure that adequate spectrum is available for a variety of non-commercial needs, e.g., public safety, state and local government, amateur radio, etc.

Based on the responses to the Notice, two independent studies,[EN11] and other information, NTIA in this report forecasts, in broad terms, future spectrum requirements for the major radio services. No distinctions are made between Federal and non-Federal spectrum requirements. Part I of this report contains chapters covering related groups of radio services. Each chapter contains a description of the radio services, and a discussion of the comments received in our inquiry, information contained in NTIA reports, or information gathered from other sources. Trends in spectrum usage for each radio service are also discussed, followed by an estimate of future spectrum requirements for that service. One chapter addresses spectrum sharing issues identified by the commenters. Additionally, based on the comments received and a study of the literature, Part II of this report describes significant technology and technology trends that may impact spectrum requirements,[EN12] and Part III briefly discusses comments received regarding U.S. preparations for international radio conferences.

Return to Report Table of Contents.

Proceed to Chapter 1, Mobile and Mobile-Satellite Services.