Print 15 comment(s) - last by RLJ05.. on Mar 30 at 5:29 PM

Block of spectrum is currently occupied by USAF and other federal users, could soon see smartphone use

America's largest smartphone carrier, Verizon Wireless -- a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc.'s (LON:VOD) -- has been active in warning of a dire "spectrum shortage" that could cripple expansion and upgrades of its U.S. wireless network.  AT&T Inc. (T), the nation's second largest carrier, voiced similar concerns.

I. TV Spectrum Reauction Gets the Greenlight

The Obama administration has been on top of this issue, and has proposed some solutions, although they are not without controversy.  His official goal is to double the amount of spectrum available to telecommunication companies.

To achieve that end he's proposed a special U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) spectrum auction, which would allow TV providers to sell their unused TV spectrum left over from the transition to digital.  The auction was recently authorized by Congress as a line item on the payroll taxcut extension bill (officially "The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act").  

Congress Buillding wide
The contentious TV spectrum reauction narrowly squeaked through Congress.
[Image Source: U.S. Congress]

However, many remain concerned that the auction will create interference problems with TV broadcasts.  These fears are accentuated by the fact that "Obama's" FCC recently almost let LightSquared, Inc. -- a heavy donor to the Obama campaign -- deploy a risky satellite LTE project, which was estimated to cause catastrophic interference with 75 percent of GPS receivers.  Critics are also concerned that the authorization could offer a backdoor to mandatory spectrum seizures.

II. Attention Turns to Federal Spectrum Reallocation, Sharing

A key second-tier of the spectrum push is in scrounging up unused or relocateable spectrum in the federal government's current holdings.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has just released a report evaluating the 1755–1850 MHz block (95 MHz total) for reallocation.

The block is currently allocated in chunks to 20 federal agencies, with 3,100 total chunks granted.  The spectrum is being actively used by law enforcement surveillance, military tactical communications, air combat training, and precision-guided munitions.

While the NTIA report indicates that there is strong promise for reallocation, it urges caution in considering this an "overnight" solution.  It indicates that reallocation could take "more than a decade".  And it says that complete reallocation may be "no longer feasible".

As an alternative, it suggests a slow reallocation process, piece by piece.  In the meantime it advocates a "sharing" solution.  Private-public sector spectrum sharing is a relatively new development.  And it won't necessarily be easy.  Sharing brings a lot of new complications to the traditional scheme of direct allocation -- for instance, who gets priority if a commercial-utilized chunk of spectrum suddenly is needed for federal use.

Air combat training
It will take over a decade to reallocate and/or share the 115 MHz of spectrum in the 1755-1850 MHz block, which is currently used for federal purposes, such as air combat training.
[Image Source: USAF photo/Senior Airman Clay Lancaste]

Nonetheless, sharing could turn President Obama's 10-year spectrum doubling proposal from unlikely to very doable.  The NTIA has already advised reallocation/sharing of a separate 115 MHz block of spectrum, so the total proposed push would be a major chunk of 210 MHz.  That makes the total proposed reallocation reach 40 percent of the president's goal (500+ MHz).  

While that figure may be a bit overoptimistic given that the contingent word in the 1755 MHz block's sharing/reallocation proposed scheme is "partial", the NTIA still has approximately 2,000 MHz worth of federally allocated spectrum chunks to look at.  So the possibility of eliminating federal spectrum waste via public-private spectrum sharing and/or direct reallocation could yield fruit for years to come.

While the finer details must certainly be debated and critiqued (recall, the government did accidentally sell a key chunk of spectrum used for B2 stealth bomber communications), the efforts are certainly worthwhile and warranted.  While the issue of "spectrum hoarding" by large carriers does need to be addressed, the fact remains that faster and more reliable wireless internet services to devices invariably requires more spectrum.  Thus whether or not spectrum is running out today, it will almost certainly run out tomorrow (metaphorically speaking), and it's good to start preparing for that inevitability.

Source: NTIA [press release]

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RE: Just to point out the obvious....
By Amiga500 on 3/29/2012 11:58:58 AM , Rating: 2
The issue is not whether the military systems would function.. the problem is they would effectively jam commercial systems.

Where do you get that idea from? The transmission times on military nets is so small compared to commercial as to be virtually insignificant.

Long transmission times = easier to get positional fixes = bad.

In addition, jamming any commercial system when operating would be a helluva way to signal to your opposition that your attacking them wouldn't it?

RE: Just to point out the obvious....
By Hammer1024 on 3/29/2012 2:11:23 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sorry, but your analysis of usage is incorrect. Military usage and systems are generally not talked about because... Well, they're military!

You are also talking about systems, in quite a few cases that are 30+ years old and never intended to "Play nice" with others in their spectrum.

And there is no intention of the military user community to develope new systems just so a class of citianery can play with their phones.

These systems take years to develop, test for interoperability (That the new systems play nice with other systems.), functionality, reliability, sutibility to task... The list goes on for quite a bit.

And all of it is low volume, thousands over the programs life, not millions a week, and it all has to work right all the time...

Can the current spectrum outside of military use be better managed and allocated... Heck yeh! Go look a a spectrum map some time.

Is the military a large user... No! It's small, spectrum wise.

Go look elsewhere for spectrum.

By prophet001 on 3/29/2012 3:25:57 PM , Rating: 2
this ^

RE: Just to point out the obvious....
By Amiga500 on 3/29/2012 3:36:45 PM , Rating: 2
Of course they aren't talked about in the general public. But I'm not the general public.

I'll say it once again for those that are a bit slow on the uptake - if any military system cannot deal with an environment saturated with civilian electronic traffic - then it is of no use in an environment saturated with hostile (and potentially targetted) electronic traffic or noise.

RE: Just to point out the obvious....
By Master Kenobi on 3/29/2012 5:25:57 PM , Rating: 3
Most military grade hardware that operates using radio frequencies is designed to not "share". That wimpy little Cell Phone is going to have a tiny fraction of the signal power of its military spec equivalent. Any military equipment in use will effectively jam the civilian lines because it will simply overpower them. Civilian spec equipment must meet strict FCC regulations that limit the power and output of a radio frequency device, the military has no such restriction and never will.

By JediJeb on 3/29/2012 9:32:59 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly! And what is going to happen when a bunch of people are streaming the last seconds of the NCAA tournament on their phones and a military transmission crashes the feed just as the last second winning shot is being made? I would hate to be the internet provider on that day lol.

By Amiga500 on 3/30/2012 5:37:29 AM , Rating: 2
I dunno where to start really.

Once again going back to the usefulness in an actual combat situation - any military system that is solely reliant on brute electronic force to suppress others so it can operate will fail dismally in a warzone as all the opposition has to do is find more powerful jammers to drown out the useful transmissions. Jammers will always be able to generate more powerful noise than any transmitter will signal.

The military systems do have high powered capabilities - but that is to counter jamming by amplifying their signal to a level where it stands out from the noise. That capability is only used when it needs to be used.

For instance, the Air Force transmissions are now specifically designed to be low powered and highly compressed databursts, so that signal detection and triangulation is much tougher. But extremely high powered signalling is still possible - its just not preferable whatsoever (and would not be used in training).

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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