DoD Relinquishes Spectrum to Sate Wireless Industry Demands
That never used to be a problem. The military had its exclusive reserved bands, and the TV stations, police and ham radio operators had theirs.
Then came the cellular phone.
The commercial wireless industry began to grow at leaps and bounds, and seemingly overnight, the airwaves were crowded.
“Military growth is increasing exponentially as well,” said Frederick D. Moorefield Jr., director of spectrum policy and programs at the office of the Defense Department chief information officer. Unmanned aerial vehicles require spectrum for command and control and to transmit sensor data. Jet fighter cockpits and ground combat vehicle cabins are becoming more connected.
Weapon testing stateside requires more bandwidth, as does a new generation of radars that now must detect smaller targets at longer ranges, Moorefield said.
Not a day goes by when there isn’t some kind of interference incident as the bands grow more crowded, he added.
“I can give you a whole list of interference incidents. Radars, wireless land devices, unlicensed interference problems. We get them every day,” he said at a National Defense Industrial Association breakfast.
President Obama in 2010 asked the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to free up 500 megahertz of federal and non-federal spectrum by 2020 in order to make it available for fixed and mobile wireless communications. The Defense Department must now figure out how to share the airwaves. It’s a tough technological challenge and a serious one. Radio interference can cause deadly accidents, Moorefield said.
“Historically, the DoD would have seen this as a threat. We see it as an opportunity. Not only to balance the need to support the economic goals of the country, but also to assure our national security needs are being met,” Moorefield said.
The commercial wireless industry is asking the government for more spectrum. The explosion of mobile computing devices is fueling the demand.
Traffic levels are expected to keep rising. U.S. mobile data use doubled from 2012 to 2013 and will increase by 650 percent by 2018, according to trade group CTIA-The Wireless Association.
The average mobile connecting speed was 2.6 megabytes per second in 2012. That is expected to increase to 14.4 megabytes per second by 2017, the association statistics state.
The association’s stand is that there “are some users, such as government and television broadcasters that have large bands of unused and underutilized spectrum. Since there are significant positive economic impacts that spectrum auctions would generate for the government and our nation’s economy through more jobs, investment and innovation, it is clear why spectrum auctions are supported by President Obama, bipartisan members of Congress, FCC commissioners, NTIA administrator and other policymakers.”
Moorefield said the contributions the wireless industry is making to the nation’s economy can’t be dismissed.
“This fuels economic growth, jobs and tech innovations that cannot be ignored,” he said.
The association said in a commentary to the FCC: “With respect to commercial uses, the FCC and NTIA must be mindful that commercial providers in particular actively and intensively utilize every megahertz of spectrum available to them, and any sharing approach must account for this intensive use.”
Spectrum congestion is coming from a diverse range of applications, services, providers and systems both terrestrial and satellite based, licensed and unlicensed. “All of which are feeding different aspects of the same consumer demand for more data,” Moorefield said.
On the other hand, the Defense Department needs flexibility to accommodate its own future growth requirements, he added.
“Unlike other users, DoD’s mission is global, diverse and complex,” he said.
“We have to be able to train as we fight in the U.S. before we can deploy to ensure that our men and women in uniform can operate our wireless systems effectively and return home safe,” he said.
There are technological solutions to the crowded spectrum problem, he said. Spectrum sharing, compression and relocation are part of the equation.
The Commerce Department is in the beginning stages of setting up a test bed, tentatively called Model City, where some of these new technologies can be safely tried out.
“From a distance, spectrum sharing and access may look simple … but up close in the field when numerous users have data intensive mission requirements that must be met at the same time for different purposes, good spectrum management is complex,” Moorefield said.
The Defense Department requires adequate bandwidth, protection from interference and the ability to operate in congested environments, often in coordination with other users in the same bands and adjacent bands, he added.
“We are all still trying to figure out what the terms and conditions will be and how they will balance new commercial entrants and incumbents,” he said.
The terms of spectrum sharing must be understood before final rules are put in place,” he said.
The Defense Department in 2013 released the Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy.
Despite the commercial industry’s demand for more military spectrum, and the accommodating tone of Defense Department officials, the ultimate goal for the military is still to have whatever it needs, wherever and whenever it is needed “to achieve mission success,” the strategy stated.
Standing in its way are adversaries who want to jam signals, and policymakers in “international forums where leadership will need to balance national defense, economic and other national interests,” the strategy stated.
There is a three-pronged approach to achieving this. First, there will be a focus on new technologies that will help military spectrum managers use methods such as sharing and compression to free up bandwidth.
Second, will be a focus on agility so mission planners can have more options.
The third will take place in the halls of Washington. The department must refine its ability to influence the new wave of regulations.
“This means the DoD must have the necessary information to write its own policies and provide leadership and influence national policies,” Moorefield said.
The Defense Department already struck one deal to relinquish the 1755-1780 megahertz band and move its operations from there to the 2025-2110 band. It will have to share the higher band with TV news broadcasters, who use it to transmit live reports from mobile trucks.
The original plan was to give up space above 1780, he said. The Defense Department investigated whether it could compress operations above 1780 “and we just could not get there.
We just have too many operations in that band to be able to compress and not have an operational impact,” Moorefield said.
“As you go through this process to find somewhere to put commercial industry, you have to find somewhere to put federal agencies and DoD. And there is just not that many other places you can go,” he added.
He compared it to a domino game.
The strategy document also mentions an “if you can’t beat them, join them” tactic. It must leverage what the commercial industry has to offer.
“DoD will evaluate commercial capabilities, such as smartphones and 4th generation wireless, for mission use and to meet other spectrum requirements,” the document said.
The department “expects that military investments in spectrum technologies will both leverage and augment commercial innovation to the benefit of DoD operations and the national wireless ecosystem as a whole,” it said.
While the demand for spectrum is growing exponentially on terrestrial networks, there is a little talked about problem growing in the space realm.
Victoria Samson, Washington office director of the Secure World Foundation, a think tank that specializes in space issues, said commercial satellite operators are also facing increased demand for bandwidth.
The growing problem prompted executives from major satellite communications providers to convene a meeting on the sidelines of the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in May.
“Spectrum is absolutely becoming an issue for commercial providers. You can see that in the numerous advisory and coordination groups that have cropped up to deal with this,” Samson said in an email interview.
The NTIA has a commerce spectrum management advisory committee. The space frequency coordination group, based in Europe, is attempting to coordinate allocation internationally, she said.
“The commercial telecom providers are extremely intent upon expanding their allocation of spectrum, that is for sure,” she said.
Currently, there is no pressure on U.S. defense or intelligence agencies to relinquish spectrum used in space, however, there is for weather satellites, she said.
“Domestic weather satellite spectrum use is up on the chopping block largely to meet the demands of the telecom companies, which could have unanticipated ripple effects if the weather information can’t be shared as it currently is,” she said.
Spectrum sharing and reallocation are tough problems, Moorefield said.
“We have embarked on a long and complex journey to address spectrum change. … This will not happen overnight. It’s a systematic, evolutionary process with an eye on near-, mid-term and long-term successes,” he said.