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Building Spectrum Policy to Meet Advanced Communications Capabilities

June 21, 2018


Building Spectrum Policy to Meet Advanced Communications Capabilities

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
TIA Policy Forum: Federal Spectrum Policy for the 5G Era

June 21, 2018

Washington, DC

~As prepared for delivery~

Thank you to TIA for inviting me here today.  The title of this forum is spot on: we really are on the cusp of the 5G era.  It is truly exciting to move from the promise of 5G, which was just a few short years ago, to where the industry is today – building the broad 5G ecosystem and the 5G networks themselves.  TIA members are at the heart of this, playing leading roles – developing the underlying technologies, incorporating them into equipment and solutions, deploying networks with their operator partners, and producing the devices and products that will bring 5G to life. 

The Trump Administration is committed to doing all it can to help put America in the lead on 5G, and a big part of that will be focusing on ways for the government to find more spectrum for commercial services, and to facilitate infrastructure investment.  Today, I want to talk about building the sustainable policy frameworks that are supporting 5G rollout and other important uses of spectrum we have, and will continue to need.

Radio frequency, or RF, spectrum is an invaluable, finite resource that is essential to meeting the wireless communication needs of consumers and businesses, and for carrying out critical government missions and functions. One of NTIA’s core missions is ensuring the efficient use of spectrum for purposes ranging from national security and public safety, to economic growth and scientific research. We will need enough spectrum to meet the needs of 5G, unlicensed access, and the next generation of satellite systems that hold so much potential. 

We certainly hear a lot about the need for more spectrum capacity on the commercial side, but the Federal side has similar growing needs.  In general, the Federal government has had to do more with less as we’ve reapportioned spectrum allocations.  Our spectrum policy work today is committed to finding the right balance in meeting the needs of commercial and Federal users, to ensure the nation achieves the full potential of this valuable public resource.

As I said at last week’s spectrum symposium, the Administration is in the midst of building a strategic approach toward our spectrum goals that will engage government, the private sector, and all stakeholders. This includes creating a comprehensive set of immediate and long-term steps that build a framework for a longer-term approach to spectrum policymaking.  Our plan for the future is based on acknowledgement that the days of redeploying spectrum from one use to another are over for the most part. There are no more easy and relatively painless relocations we can do.

The job of finding additional spectrum is not an easy or painless process. It takes a lot of hard work, compromise and creative collaboration – and a commitment to problem solving.  NTIA leads these efforts, bringing together a broad range of spectrum stakeholders to help think through transitioning incumbents, or determining effective methods to share spectrum on a transitional or long-term basis. I’m happy to say that we’ve made progress, thanks to the trust we’ve built within government and between government and industry.  But more needs to be done.  I’d like to provide some of what we’re doing to work toward our spectrum goals.

 Opportunities with Spectrum Sharing

NTIA has been working closely with the FCC in recent repurposing efforts that incorporate elements of spectrum sharing, from the AWS-3 transition to the millimeter wave range above 24 GHz, what the FCC calls “Spectrum Frontiers” -- a key focus for 5G.  Meanwhile, in many ways, the model being employed for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the 3.5 GHz band, 3550-3700 MHz, has been the most intricate and, potentially, the most groundbreaking.  The tiered-access approach has provided the Commission and NTIA, as well Federal agency spectrum users, the opportunity to really push the envelope on new techniques for dynamic sharing. 

Right now, NTIA is working with the FCC and the Wireless Innovation Forum (WinnForum) to complete the standards and the certification framework for the Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) that will work together to control the CBRS devices.  Using these technologies in a key, globally important mid-range spectrum band will be a watershed moment for these dynamic sharing approaches.

Integral to this work is a new concept announced earlier this year that holds great promise for enabling spectrum sharing among commercial and Federal users in a way that should fully protect Federal uses.  Dynamic Protection Areas, or DPAs, is a solution developed through government and industry collaboration that represents a significant advance in transforming the older, static model of “exclusion zones” into a dynamic sharing model, which can allow multiple uses across time and geography.  If successful, the DPA model could have applicability for future sharing opportunities in other bands.

The static exclusion zones relied upon a “command and control” type of approach in which certain geographic areas were excluded, or carved out, from a newly authorized use of spectrum.  This was designed to protect the incumbents — in the CBRS case, military radars — from harmful interference in certain areas.  

Older-style exclusion zones would’ve effectively prevented the deployment of commercial wireless services in the band along U.S. coastlines, including many of the nation’s largest cities and metro areas.  That would have created severe economic barriers for commercial service providers to operate viably in the band.  The DPAs have been tailored to allow for commercial services in these coastal areas while avoiding harmful interference to the U.S. military radars that still must operate there.  This is the kind of win-win scenario that is increasingly driving our efforts to innovate in spectrum management.

NTIA is hopeful the technologies developed through the CBRS sharing process will provide options for the future.  But while we’re excited about having this additional tool in the proverbial toolbox, it is not a turnkey approach that simply can be applied across a wide array of bands without specific study of each band. And each band presents its own distinct engineering and sharing challenges. 

Because of differences in the types and density of existing uses in each band, a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely, even for bands adjacent to the CBRS band. This is why the 3450-3550 MHz band has to be studied.  Although we know there is potential for sharing, only by undertaking the necessary technical due-diligence can we make any informed conclusions on whether it is truly possible and what mechanisms, including DPAs or other solutions, may make sense.

These opportunities with spectrum sharing come at a time when some older approaches have become less attractive.  For instance, Congress created the Spectrum Relocation Fund, the SRF, which relies on a funding stream from commercial spectrum auctions to compensate the Federal government for costs associated with relocation of incumbent Federal users.  In recent years, the opportunities for cost-effective and timely relocation have declined, while the ability to facilitate more prompt and cost-effective spectrum sharing has grown.  Some policy-makers have suggested that more flexibility in the usage of SRF funds — for instance not tying them directly to specific auction proceeds or relocations in particular bands — might broaden the incentive effects for Federal agencies to share or otherwise re-purpose spectrum.

Congress recognized this potential, in part, through the Spectrum Pipeline Act, which set up an initial pool of funding ($500 million) for federal agency research that potentially might lead to repurposing of federal spectrum allocations, with replenishment of the funds coming from future auctions of federal spectrum.  Federal agencies have responded with Pipeline Plan proposals such as the Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar (SENSR) program and several others.

SENSR is a joint initiative of four federal agencies:  the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  In response to the Pipeline Act, these departments and agencies sought funding to explore whether their radar operations in the 1300-1350 MHz band could streamlined, combined or otherwise updated so that some of this federal spectrum could be repurposed.  The SENSR effort is well underway, having thus far received more than $70 million from the SRF to study this potential opportunity.

Bi-Directional Sharing and Leasing  

Traditionally, spectrum sharing generally has allowed commercial users to gain new access to bands where they previously had limited or no access at all.  Most often, Federal agencies are the incumbents that are required to “make room” for the new entrants.  If we continue on this path, however, it will lead to significantly constrained access for Federal agencies with missions that are critical to the health and safety of the American people.  While we may uncover incremental ways for agencies to use the spectrum they have more efficiently, these opportunities are finite and will only become more so if the uni-directional sharing trend continues.

The idea behind “bi-directional” sharing is exploring new opportunities for sharing with Federal users in some non-Federal bands.  This could work best in cases where generally compatible systems or equipment is being used by Federal and non-Federal users, or in bands that lend themselves to geographic separation.  

The MOBILE NOW Act requires the FCC, with NTIA’s support, to complete a study of bi-directional sharing, which will allow a thorough exploration of this possibility.  We are currently in the process of reaching out to the federal agencies to establish potential sharing scenarios of interest; and we will be meeting with the FCC soon to establish a work plan.  As we move down a path to viable shared access, we will have to find ways to provide the regulatory certainty that commercial spectrum users and federal entities need to make longer-term investment decisions.

The Administration’s FY 19 budget proposal included the concept of leasing Federal spectrum for commercial use. This could be another means of affording Federal agencies some increased flexibility in rationalizing their spectrum use. Essentially, NTIA would work with the agencies to identify spectrum assignments or bands with “white spaces” geographically or in the time or frequency domains.  NTIA would then administer a spectrum leasing program that could allow other potential users to obtain needed spectrum access.  To be clear, this concept needs much more study and analysis, but I believe it is worth exploring whether it can become an additional tool for expanding access to spectrum and using it more efficiently and effectively.

Global Harmonization

NTIA is actively working to shape the global environment for 5G, and other aspects of wireless communications, by participating in global multistakeholder and standards-setting forums that affect the development of new technologies.  We also are coordinating Federal agencies’ participation in preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference next year, WRC-19. As some of you know, the U.S. preparatory process for WRC-19 involves two parallel processes for developing national proposals.

The FCC conducts a public input process, through its WRC Advisory Committee (WAC), that solicits the views and recommendations of non-Federal stakeholders, including industry.  NTIA coordinates the Federal government users’ preparation of WRC proposals through the Radio Conference Subcommittee (RCS) of the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC). And the Department of State acts to reconcile any differences between the proposals that come out of these two preparation “tracks,” compiling U.S. proposals

NTIA represents the sizable and broad array of Federal agency uses and interests in preparing for each WRC, including agencies such as NASA and the Department of Defense, which constitute some of the largest and most technologically sophisticated users of spectrum in the world.  NTIA also has an important role in making sure the public is served by a spectrum policy that allows the Federal government to continue delivering services that protect the American public and promote economic growth.

To carry out this mission, NTIA’s spectrum experts and engineers participate in all ITU technical and planning meetings leading up to each WRC.  NTIA staff right now is heavily engaged in U.S. and international preparatory meetings for WRC-19 on all of the conference agenda items. We’re meeting with Federal agency users, the FCC, industry and the State Department in direct negotiations with U.S. partners overseas as preparations continue over the next 15 months.

What’s Happening in Our Laboratories

The Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS), NTIA’s research facility in Boulder, CO, is recognized as one of the world's leading telecommunications research laboratories. This research provides critical technical input to NTIA’s policies to support more efficient use of the nation’s radio spectrum resources, including new approaches to dynamic spectrum-sharing, and promotes Administration positions in national and international standards-setting bodies. 

Using the tools and techniques developed under direct-funded research, the laboratory solves telecommunications problems on a cost-reimbursable basis for other federal agencies and private entities.  ITS develops, validates, and uses RF propagation models, which are software implementations of physics-based mathematical models, to predict how radio waves behave in operational environments.  These models can predict the strength of a received signal a given distance from a transmitter, or identify where the radio waves from different transmitters may overlap and interfere with each other.  As 5G is likely to involve a much higher density of cell site deployment, being able to accurately predict how the new 5G radio will work in difficult operational environment is key.

ITS research continues the important work of upgrading existing propagation models in priority bands to handle “clutter” -- environmental features such as buildings or foliage -- to improve prediction accuracy in the most commercially desirable densely populated areas where more wireless devices are being deployed in greater numbers and densities. This research is especially important in a 5G world.

As do engineers from NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management, ITS directly participates in the development of 5G in standards development organizations such as the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). ITS was instrumental in leading standards work for public safety in 3GPP in the 4G environment and set the path for public safety to one day evolve towards 5G. Additionally, ITS directly participates in 3GPP on behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation as it evaluates the 5G standards work for vehicle to vehicle safety related communications.

ITS also conducts electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) analyses using models, simulations, tests, and measurements to examine the interactions between different RF-dependent systems, such as between radars and cellular systems. 5G is likely to involve multiple radio access technologies, RATs, and being able to fully understand and model the interaction of these RATs is crucial to truly understanding how 5G telecommunications systems will actually perform.

NTIA engineers are developing new analytic tools and techniques for EMC analysis to support the regular introduction of new wireless devices in greater numbers and densities, such as those being deployed for the Internet of Things, which is a major market driver for the 5G environment.  Our colleagues in Boulder also are deploying a neighborhood-scale spectrum monitoring system in collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder, and will expand the system to city-wide over the course of several years.

Other NTIA Policy Priorities

Spectrum policy is a core focus of NTIA, with nearly half of our workforce devoted to working on these issues. We’re also deeply engaged in a broad range of communications policy work, from ensuring the buildout of rural broadband services to public safety for first responders, to protecting the public from cybersecurity risks.

On this last issue, security, I’d like to thank TIA in particular for its support and contributions. Your advice to NTIA back in 2015 was particularly prescient, calling out automated risks to the ecosystem and Internet of Things security concerns. Your members have engaged significantly with us on the recent Department of Commerce / Homeland Security report on botnets, and we look forward to your continued participation in the multistakeholder initiatives that will follow that report.

These efforts underscore something that TIA has told us in the past: Government and industry must work together to “to foster innovation and to better secure the ecosystem.” This will ensure that “businesses, organizations and individuals can expand their trust, investment and engagement in the digital economy while also reinforcing the voluntary, multistakeholder approach to Internet policymaking.”

I take that advice to heart, and I think it goes beyond just cybersecurity, capturing a great deal about how NTIA approaches the very real challenges we face.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today and I look forward to your questions.