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NTIA Pursues Innovative Spectrum Sharing Plan That Could Deliver Boost to 5G

December 15, 2020 by Charles Cooper, Associate Administrator, Office of Spectrum Management

Incumbent Informing Capability (IIC) graphic

Wireless broadband service providers want more spectrum – and quickly – to meet ever-growing consumer demand and deploy more advanced 5G networks. Federal agencies continue to answer that call by enabling commercial access to sizable amounts of repurposed spectrum. To accomplish federal missions critical to our country, however, government agencies also need secure access to spectrum. Easy solutions to this demand are as scarce as spectrum itself – but a promising innovation soon may help. 

What if federal spectrum could be shared in some instances where agencies use it only episodically or in limited areas? That is the idea behind an innovative dynamic spectrum-sharing concept that NTIA is pioneering in partnership with the Department of Defense (DOD). The project, called Incumbent Informing Capability (IIC), builds on advances that would give accelerated spectrum access to commercial 5G networks while still allowing federal agencies to accomplish their critical spectrum-dependent missions. 

The IIC concept is a time- and location-based spectrum sharing approach that would enable DOD and other federal spectrum users to submit information, reliably and securely, about when and where they would be employing certain frequencies. This scheduling information would inform a spectrum coordination system (SCS), in conjunction with advanced computer databases, allowing 5G commercial network providers to adjust operations in real time and avoid harmful interference. The goal is to enable efficient, secure and reliable spectrum sharing between new commercial networks and the incumbent federal systems.

NTIA’s Office of Spectrum Management has established an IIC Project Team to work with DOD in the exploration of this capability. The IIC builds on the sharing mechanism used for the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service. This new approach could standardize the spectrum sharing model and be incorporated in other bands that support such scheduling. This should decrease the amount of time needed to repurpose additional bands, because engineering and policy requirements are already defined and could be simply replicated.    

IIC could permit easier and quicker spectrum access for commercial wireless services and open the door to innovative, real-time automation. Moving complex federal systems to different spectrum bands has been laborious, time-consuming and expensive – and eventually there may be no place left to move them. The IIC, however, could potentially securely and reliably expedite spectrum repurposing. It would be further proof that innovation and collaboration can solve difficult spectrum challenges.