Industry Leaders Examine the Future of Spectrum at IWCE
Tuesday, March 29, 2022 | Comments
A panel of well-known industry leaders said the key to ensuring spectrum for future technology is innovation, collaboration and the removal of key regulatory barriers.

“The first principle is if you’re going to talk about new and creative uses of spectrum, we’re talking about spectrum that has already been allocated and is therefore occupied,” said Morgan O’Brien, cofounder and former chairman of Nextel and executive chairman of Anterix’s board of directors. “How do you make that omelet without breaking eggs? The history of the last 50 years is a lot of eggs get broken.”

The comments came during a panel on the future of spectrum at the 2022 International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE) in Las Vegas March 22.

O’Brien said that one of the keys is the industry coming together, determining the spectrum requirements of future technologies and taking the steps to make that technology possible.

“We have an opportunity to do something distinctly different,” he said. “We can take a hard look at the facts about the spectrum that has been allocated and is being used by the private radio services. … What does enterprise require and how do we pave the way for new technology? I don’t think the structure really exists for having something like this happen. It won’t happen by random chance. It’s going to have to be managed and governed.”

Sue Swenson, the former chair of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority), said that the authority showed how disparate users groups can collaborate to effectively share spectrum.

“I think people were skeptical that we would be able to pull off FirstNet,” Swenson said. “I think we have an example with FirstNet of how we can share spectrum with the network serving both commercial and public-safety entities.”

Swenson noted that when she first joined the FirstNet Authority board after working in commercial wireless for many years, she was shocked at how far public safety was behind commercial wireless in terms of spectrum and public safety.

“I was personally shocked and almost embarrassed that being in the wireless industry, we would leave such an important entity so far behind,” she said. Swenson noted that the spectrum allocated to public safety for the FirstNet network has helped close that gap but said it is important that public safety is not left behind again when it comes to public safety.

“I don’t think public safety is asking for a lot on a relative basis when you think of all the spectrum that has been auctioned and all the spectrum that is being prepared to be auctioned.”

Mark Crosby, Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) chief strategy officer, noted that any spectrum gains that the industry has seen has come from improved technology. At the same time, he said, there is even more space for spectrum growth but certain regulatory rules and policies are slowing that progress down.

For example, there is certain spectrum allocated to sectors such as critical infrastructure, but that spectrum is only being used in 20 percent of the country, he said. “This is goofiness. There’s tons of examples of this across the country.”

Additionally, he said, there is a lot spectrum that has been allocated and licensed but has not been put into place by those licensees.

“If you have licensees that are dormant and not in use, you have to get it back,” Crosby said. “You can’t have squatters, there’s not enough to go around.”

Another aspect of the current regulatory environment that needs to be improved is the speed at which the FCC and other regulators move on proceedings. He highlighted the FCC’s current rulemaking on the 4.9 GHz band which has been going on for many years.

“How long has 4.9 been going on and the commission still does not know what to do with it,” Crosby said. “The commission cannot take five years to make decisions. They have to get better at it. They’re really good people.”

Jennifer Manner, a senior vice president of regulatory affairs at EchoStar and an author who has written two books on wireless communications, said regulators and the industry must be prepared to deal with interference caused by new applications. For example, the many massive satellite constellations that are currently be launched could lead to new interference.

One approach that could help handle this issue would be the development of receiver standards — currently there are only transmitter standards. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has recently indicated that she is in favor of developing receiver standards.

“People build sloppy receivers,” Manner said. They’re cheap, and that’s the primary driver.”

Crosby agreed that it was important to address receiver requirements.

O’Brien noted that while it’s fair to criticize the FCC for specific decisions or practices, the FCC’s process for rulemaking allows a variety of stakeholders to have their say on important issues. “You can criticize them, but I’ve always maintained that the process of rulemaking in which every single one of us gets our opportunity to make our case before a neutral party that then weighs all the information and makes decisions is important,” O’Brien said, noting that it’s a better process than having a random, potentially biased entity make spectrum decisions.

O’Brien argued that it’s important that the industry doesn’t just wait for the FCC to address an issue but instead bring proposals to the commission to help move the industry forward.

“We need to start harnessing that energy and start putting proposals forward that recognize the harsh reality that many, many sacred cows will have to be sacrificed in the name of making a finite amount of spectrum more accessible and more useable and able to do more,” he said.

Manner noted that not all spectrum decisions are made by the FCC as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) coordinates spectrum use among federal agencies.

“I think there’s recognition that the federal government needs to make more efficient use of the spectrum,” Manner said. “They’re working on it.”

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