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Next Steps for Innovative Spectrum Sharing

CBRS 2.0: The Next Generation of Spectrum Sharing with the U.S. Military
New America
Remarks of Sarah Morris
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information (Acting) 
National Telecommunications and Information Administration  
Washington, D.C.
June 18, 2024

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Michael, and thank you to New America for hosting this well-timed event. I’m happy to be here on behalf of NTIA to celebrate the collaboration and technical work on spectrum sharing that brings us together today.

As a starting point, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to evidence-based spectrum policy and management. Relying on sound, scientific research is the best way to advance the high-tech areas of our economy, including telecommunications and other wireless industries.

This approach rightly puts engineers and technology developers where they should be: At the core of spectrum allocation decisions, licensing and long-range planning.  

There is no better example of the success of this strategy than the evolution we are seeing today in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS.

I’m proud to be here today to discuss – and yes brag – about what we’ve been doing to create the next phase of CBRS. I’d like to acknowledge the engineers and policymakers from across NTIA, the Navy, the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies who came together to do the hard work of advancing this critical framework.

We can learn positive lessons about the vision, collaboration and dedication of our engineers if we stop and reflect about how we arrived here.

CBRS was groundbreaking in its inception. It was borne out of a desire to make the most efficient use of 3.5 GHz spectrum. We had a large block of vital midband spectrum that showed promise for commercial deployment yet was also home to key Navy radars. At the same time, there was interest in supporting the spectrum needs of wireless carriers while also expanding opportunities for non-traditional users to access and innovate with high-grade spectrum.  

Engineers solve problems, though, and together, the engineers from NTIA, DOD and the FCC devised the CBRS framework.  

  • From a regulatory perspective, it created a three-tiered licensing and access structure that protected existing military radar services while layering PALs (Priority Access Licenses) and opportunistic-use GAA (General Authorized Access) across a national market.  
  • From a technical standpoint, it introduced a dynamic, automated access approach that combined sensors with a spectrum access system to govern the commercial operations in defined Dynamic Protection Areas.

When the CBRS ecosystem rolled out some 5 years ago, it was forward-looking and innovative – and it has continued to grow.

  • NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences found that once deployment began, CBRS equipment rollout increased steadily. There was a cumulative 121 percent increase over a 21-month period through December 2022.
  • More recently, the OnGo Alliance reported that CBRS deployments have continued to increase. More than 1,000 different operators were using 370,000 active CBRS transmitters in the 3.5 GHz band by the end of 2023.
  • In reviewing the performance of the CBRS technologies and systems, engineers have found that CBRS works. Not a single example of harmful interference to federal operations has been reported.  

CBRS is a success. But we haven’t been resting on our laurels. Instead, we have investigated how to sharpen the tools and the rules of the sharing framework to allow more unfettered use of CBRS equipment while still protecting those important military radars.  

I’m excited that we have found a path forward. Recent changes to the aggregate interference model are intended to improve shared access to the 3.5 GHz band by:  

  • Reducing the size of those Dynamic Protection Area (DPA) neighborhoods along the coastlines and around federal facilities throughout the country;  
  • Decreasing the number of services that are suspended during federal operations; and  
  • Better reflecting real world operations in our modeling.    

As noted in our letter that our Office of Spectrum Management sent to the FCC last week, implementing these changes will expand unencumbered service to roughly 72 million more people. In all, that would equip CBRS to serve a total of about 240 million people nationwide without preemption by federal operations.  

The evolution of CBRS spectrum-sharing shows how a collaboration among government and industry stakeholders can lead to meaningful commercial spectrum access while protecting vital government systems.

In many ways, the CBRS experience has been captured in the DNA of the National Spectrum Strategy:  

  • The type of collaboration among agency engineers has been a practical model for the enhanced collaborative framework the Strategy calls for among federal agencies, the Commission and industry.  
  • The success of CBRS has helped to reinforce the initiatives calling for the creation of a dynamic spectrum sharing demonstration and testbed, and also the work toward a common sharing platform for federal-to-federal and federal-to-nonfederal spectrum sharing.

To close, the importance of the expansion of CBRS is twofold:  

  • First, the engineering and regulatory upgrades will spur continued growth and development of the broadband market in the 3.5 GHz band.  
  • And second, because CBRS has been a practical application of dynamic spectrum sharing, its evolution will help us advance sharing techniques and approaches in the future.  

I want to congratulate and celebrate the spectrum engineers and policymakers who developed the bold and innovative CBRS solution to spectrum scarcity in the 3.5 GHz band.    

I hope that we continue to seek creative avenues when faced with similar future challenges and opportunities.  

Thank you again, and I look forward to today’s event.