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Innovation, Collaboration and Sharing in the 3.5 GHz Band

In an important step toward meeting President Obama’s goal of making 500 megahertz of spectrum available for mobile broadband by 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today approved an innovative regulatory framework that will enable access to 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3550-3650 MHz (3.5 GHz) band. Today’s action grew out of NTIA’s October 2010 “fast track” evaluation report that identified the 3.5 GHz band as an important band to explore to help meet the 500 megahertz commitment and address surging demand for commercial wireless broadband.

NTIA’s fast track report proposed shared commercial and federal use of the 3.5 GHz band as long as geographic exclusion zones protected critical high-powered radar systems operated by the Department of Defense (DoD). However, NTIA recognized that large exclusion zones could hamper the deployment of commercial broadband services. To address this, NTIA engineers spearheaded groundbreaking analysis and modeling techniques and collaborated closely with DoD and FCC staff. This team effort resulted in significantly reduced exclusion zones, maximizing the commercial market potential for new broadband services.  These results, along with a pioneering regulatory framework that relies on technical solutions to minimize the impact of these zones, are the foundation of the FCC’s new rules.

The FCC’s order calls for a three-tiered, priority-based system for sharing the 3.5 GHz band.  Incumbent federal radar and commercial satellite users will be afforded the highest priority and protection from interference. The next tier is for users who acquire, including via auction, short-term Priority Access licenses. Finally, through General Authorized Access, anyone with an FCC-certified device will be able to operate within the spectrum as long as they do not impact use by the other two groups.

The rules also will facilitate transparent and secure information exchanges among users to maximize the availability of the spectrum in major market areas while protecting essential incumbent federal operations and satellite services.

Innovation, collaboration and spectrum sharing are integral to our efforts to meet the President’s broadband spectrum goal, while also ensuring that federal agencies have ready access to the airwaves needed to carry out important missions for the American people. These ideas were prevalent in the work NTIA did with the FCC, federal agencies and industry that led to the release of the AWS-3 bands for use by wireless broadband providers and are now key to today’s successful action on 3.5 GHz.