The 3G Spectrum Hunt
By Darlene A. Drazenovich

The ITU describes International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) as the global standard for Third Generation (3G) Wireless Communications and the emerging network of the 21st century. IMT-2000 systems are expected to provide access, by means of one or more radio links, to a wide range of telecommunications services supported by the fixed networks and to other services that are specific to mobile users. IMT-2000 is a strategic priority of the ITU, providing a framework for worldwide wireless access by linking the diverse systems of terrestrial and/or satellite based networks. It will exploit the potential synergy between the digital mobile telecommunications technologies and the Fixed Wireless Access/Wireless Access Systems.


The ITU's 1992 World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC-92) identified the 1885-2025 MHz and 2110-2200 MHz bands for countries wishing to implement IMT-2000 services.

Several countries, including the United States, allocated and licensed portions of the bands identified by WARC-92 for Personal Communications Services (PCS) because the success of cellular, as well as the growth of the Internet, stimulated the demand for more spectrum to provide advanced communications applications. However, under the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) flexible regulatory policy, no regulatory barrier exists to prevent current wireless licensees from evolving their current first and second generation (1G and 2G) systems to 3G in the existing commercial mobile spectrum.

The ITU, after WARC-92, made a forecast that even more spectrum for IMT-2000 would be needed by the year 2010. This issue was on the agenda of the WRC-2000. The conference adopted a flexible, multiple band approach that maintains national prerogatives on making spectrum available for 3G systems while still promoting global/regional roaming and economies of scale. The conference identified the bands 806-960 MHz, 1710-1885 MHz, and 2500-2690 MHz for use by administrations wishing to implement IMT-2000. The following bands were identified for the satellite component: 1525-1544 MHz, 1545-1559 MHz, 1610-1626.5 MHz, 1626.5-1645.5 MHz, 1646.5-1660.5 MHz, 2483.5-2500 MHz, 2500-2520 MHz, and 2670-2690 MHz. Provisions for High Altitude Platform Station operations were adopted in portions of the bands 1885-2025 MHz and 2100-2200 MHz. WRC-2000 also noted in conference resolutions that some administrations plan to use parts of the 698-806 MHz and 2300-2400 MHz bands for IMT-2000.

WARC-92 and WRC-2000 identified a total of 749 MHz for use by administrations wishing to implement the terrestrial component of IMT-2000. Multiple bands were identified for 3G/IMT-2000 systems, recognizing that it would have been very difficult to agree on a single band and that administrations need to balance the spectrum demand for new services with the desire to protect existing services operating in the spectrum. This approach will provide administrations the flexibility needed to tailor their domestic band plans to their specific needs and evolve their 1G and 2G systems to 3G.

U.S. Domestic Process

After WRC-2000, the U.S. Government began a process to identify additional spectrum for advanced mobile communications, including 3G systems such as IMT-2000. This process was necessary because all of the spectrum identified by WARC-92 and WRC-2000 is heavily encumbered in the United States by both commercial and federal government users. The FCC allocates spectrum to broad categories of communications services and not to specific systems such as 3G or IMT-2000. This flexible regulatory approach allows operators to choose the best standards and systems based on their needs and market demands.

Presidential Memorandum on 3G Spectrum

In October 2000, a Presidential Memorandum was issued stating the need and urgency for the United States to select radio frequency spectrum to satisfy the future needs of the citizens and businesses for mobile voice, high-speed data, and Internet-accessible wireless capability. The President directed the Secretary of Commerce to work cooperatively with the FCC to develop a plan to select spectrum for 3G wireless systems and to engage in a discussion with industry to develop recommendations on the identification of this spectrum.

NTIA/FCC Interim Reports

In November 2000, the NTIA and the FCC issued interim reports describing current spectrum uses and the potential for reallocating or sharing the bands identified at WRC-2000. NTIA analyzed the 1755-1850 MHz band that is currently being used by federal government systems, and the FCC analyzed the 2500-2690 MHz band that is used for commercial and academic purposes.


The FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in late December 2000, initiating a public proceeding beginning the process of allocating spectrum below 3 GHz for mobile and fixed services to support the introduction of new advanced wireless services, including 3G wireless systems. This proceeding will culminate with the development of service, licensing, and auction rules so that the FCC can auction any additionally allocated spectrum and issue licenses to the auction winners.

Final Reports

In March 2001, the NTIA and the FCC issued final reports describing current spectrum uses and the potential for reallocating or sharing the bands identified at WRC-2000.

The NTIA report documents federal government use of the 1710-1850 MHz band for such systems as: telecommand, telemetry and control of military satellites; military tactical radio relay; government fixed microwave; military test ranges; and naval ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore digital wideband voice and data links. The report concluded that sharing with 3G would be difficult and that, if federal relocation is required, issues involving replacement spectrum, reimbursement, and the time required for federal entities to either modify or replace equipment would need to be addressed. The NTIA indicated that some pairing options are possible if conditions in the National Defense Authorization Act are met and continuity of government operations are maintained. (The law mandates that federal government agencies be reimbursed if required to relocate or modify radio systems to accommodate private sector use of the spectrum. Furthermore, if the spectrum is being used by the Department of Defense, the Secretaries of Commerce and Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must jointly certify to certain Congressional committees that alternate bands provide comparable technical characteristics to restore essential military capability.) According to the report, vacating portions of the 1710-1850 MHz band could vary from 9 to 29 years, depending on the system, and assuming that comparable spectrum is available.

Spectrum Allocation Decision

The goal to identify 3G spectrum by the end of July 2001 was delayed. In a June letter to Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, FCC Chairman Michael Powell stressed that the entire federal government faces a challenging set of issues in addressing how best to make available sufficient spectrum for advanced wireless services. Chairman Powell suggested that the public interest would be best served by allowing for additional time to make informed decisions even if this results in some delay in reaching allocation decisions. He also stated that a revised allocation plan and auction timetable is needed beyond the original auction target date of September 2002. Secretary Evans agreed to extend the efforts to ensure that the final allocation decision is the best possible one. The Secretary directed the NTIA Administrator to work with the FCC on a new plan for the selection of 3G spectrum. An Intra-Government 3G Planning Group, formed under the leadership of the NTIA Administrator, is developing a Spectrum Viability Assessment.


The search to find additional spectrum for 3G in the United States continues . . . .

Find it Via Internet

The President's Memorandum, the plan, interim and final reports, government officials' statements, government-industry briefings on 3G, as well as other related information can be found on the web sites:

Go to Fall 2001 Spectrum Newsletter menu.
Go to Spectrum Newsletter Home Page.
Go to NTIA/OSM Home Page.
Go to NTIA Home Page.