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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the International Symposium on Advanced Radio Technologies (ISART 2015)

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
International Symposium on Advanced Radio Technologies (ISART 2015)
Boulder, CO
May 13, 2015

As Prepared for Delivery

On behalf of the Center for Advanced Communications, a collaboration between the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), I would like to welcome you to ISART 2015.

Our theme for the next three days is: “Measurements, Models, Simulations and Technologies for Improved Spectrum Sharing.” It is a particularly relevant topic for all of you government officials, industry representatives, academics and technical experts as we approach a very important anniversary.

Next month is the five-year anniversary of President Obama’s call to action directing NTIA to work with the Federal Communications Commission to identify 500 megahertz of spectrum and make it available for commercial wireless broadband services by 2020.

Coming just three years after the introduction of the iPhone, the President’s action reflected a new reality – the huge popularity and rapid proliferation of smartphones, tablets and other bandwidth-hungry handheld devices.  All of this has fueled an explosive demand for wireless spectrum.  That was true in 2010 and it’s even more true today.

At the same time, federal agencies – from the Department of Defense to the Federal Aviation Administration – are also increasing their need for spectrum for a range of mission-critical applications.  All of this demand is growing while the total amount of spectrum available remains finite.

Three years ago, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a groundbreaking report that concluded that the traditional approach of clearing spectrum used by government agencies and then auctioning it off for exclusive private sector use was becoming too costly, too time-consuming and too disruptive to be sustainable. The future, the PCAST report concluded, lies in sharing spectrum across time, space and other dimensions. Indeed, sharing is key to meeting the President’s 500-megahertz goal.  So much so that following on this report, the President issued a second memorandum calling on NTIA again to work with the FCC to promote the increased sharing of spectrum between federal agencies and businesses.

Today, as I take stock of our progress in achieving that goal, I can confidently say that the President’s target is within reach.  However, we still have plenty of work to do to enable the sharing needed to carry us over the finish line and move then to beyond the 500-megahertz objective to meet our ever-expanding spectrum needs in the years ahead.

NTIA is firmly committed to getting there, but we can’t do it alone. Everyone here today needs to work together to identify spectrum for potential sharing, develop the technology, set the rules and secure the necessary buy-in on all sides to facilitate the expanded sharing that will be critical to managing our airwaves in the future. We all recognize that if we are going to get this right, and maximize access to spectrum at a time when everyone is clamoring for more of it, we need to cooperate to make the use of spectrum as efficient as possible.

Two key achievements in recent months have propelled us closer to the President’s goal.  And both depended on the recognition that sharing spectrum between federal and commercial uses is the new paradigm.

First was the wildly successful AWS-3 auction, which raised over $41 billion in net proceeds for the government.  This outcome was only made possible by the intensive collaboration between federal agencies and industry to evaluate how spectrum in the 1755-1780 MHz band could be shared.  Our Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) took the lead in organizing and overseeing months of intensive discussions.  The committee met yesterday and many of them are in the audience.  I want to thank them personally for their work over the last several years to make the AWS-3 outcome possible.    

The second achievement is the FCC’s recent vote to make 150 megahertz of spectrum available for shared small cell use in the 3.5 GHz band, 100 megahertz of which is used today for naval radar systems.  NTIA collaborated closely with the FCC and the Department of Defense to lay the groundwork for this move, which establishes the innovative new Citizens Broadband Radio Service and represents an important pivot point to the new paradigm of sharing.  Again, we will continue the collaboration to ensure that incumbent military users are protected even as new players start operating in these frequencies.  

So this is good progress.  Pending the FCC’s broadcast incentive auction planned for early next year, NTIA and the FCC will have made available up to 389 MHz in federal, commercial or shared bands to meet the 500 MHz target. 

Next in the pipeline, we are evaluating the feasibility of increased sharing by unlicensed devices in up to 195 megahertz of the 5 GHz band.  We are also working with federal agencies to assess their spectrum use in another five bands accounting for 960 megahertz of spectrum.  And based on the quantitative assessments these agencies will provide later this year, we will then be in a position to prioritize some of those bands for detailed sharing feasibility studies.  Collectively, these efforts are key to meeting and moving beyond the 500-megahertz target.

Still, as I said earlier, there is more be done to bring widespread spectrum sharing to reality.

First, we must develop advanced spectrum sharing technology and tools. These include smart radios that can sense which frequencies are available for use in real time, and spectrum access databases that can dynamically track who is using which bands to avoid interference with protected incumbents.

Also as our airwaves become more crowded, we need to establish processes and policies to ensure that everyone – public and private sector alike – plays by the rules.  After all, it won’t matter how much spectrum we make available for sharing if the frequencies are too congested or too chaotic to be usable.

Yesterday, CSMAC member Janice Obuchowski, a predecessor of mine as NTIA Administrator, commented that all of these recommendations for sharing won’t be effective until NTIA and the FCC address this important enforcement issue.  She is right, and we need to make this a priority for our work.

And third, we need to promote cooperation and collaboration – and build trust and buy-in – across the public and private sectors so that we can identify more sharing opportunities and make it work in practice.            

The new Center for Advanced Communications, sponsor for this conference, will be an important player across all of these issues with its focus on cutting-edge research and development, experimentation and testing.

The Center brings together the research and engineering expertise of NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, which has extensive experience conducting spectrum measurements and analysis, along with NIST, which performs world-class research related to advanced communications.  I want to acknowledge NIST’s Co-Director of the Center, Kent Rochford.  And I’m also pleased to announce that Keith Gremban, formerly of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, will be starting Monday as NTIA’s Co-Director for the Center.  With the leadership now on board, we expect the Center to be fully operational by the end of the year.   

The key mission of the CAC is to serve both other federal agencies and industry to solve some of the challenges of spectrum sharing through our testing, measurement and modeling capabilities.  To help identify and satisfy the needs of these customers, we’ve already worked with the Department of Defense to create the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network (NASCTN), which will provide a framework not just for DOD but for other agencies and industry to work with CAC.   

The Center for Advanced Communications is also conducting its own innovative research, development and testing.

I’d like to highlight one initiative in particular – CAC’s spectrum monitoring project to measure spectrum utilization.  Spectrum monitoring is important since it can help identify frequency bands of most interest for potential future sharing and support the enforcement of rules to avoid interference once sharing is in place.

CAC is currently measuring occupancy and emission levels of incumbent  Naval radar systems in the 3.5 GHz band that the FCC just opened up to sharing.  This effort could lay the groundwork for moving from exclusion zones to coordination zones, and potentially this effort could grow into a more dynamic spectrum coordination and enforcement activity, which would allow greater commercial access to that spectrum.  

The project is already collecting data from sensors in Virginia Beach and will be deploying sensors in San Diego, San Francisco and the Florida Keys in the months ahead.  Eventually we want to get this up and running in six locations around the country.

CAC is seeking to establish the infrastructure and best practices to allow other labs and researchers to contribute meaningful and uniform data to various spectrum monitoring data projects.

Other research and development priorities for CAC include software simulations of spectrum utilization scenarios and research into millimeter wave technology.  Software simulations can help predict signal propagation characteristics, allowable interference levels and other performance measures to determine if sharing is even feasible in certain bands.  And millimeter wave research is focused on developing new technology capable of operating in higher frequency bands currently not feasible for commercial wireless services.

Our goal for CAC is to develop a reputation for it as being an honest broker and a trusted third party for both federal agencies and industry.  The CAC will be critical to fostering the public private coordination and collaboration and generating buy in from all sides that will be needed to make sharing work.  

With that, let me thank the Center for Advanced Communications for sponsoring this event and thank all of you for participating in the conference.  These are important issues.  I hope you have a productive conference, that will help all of us work together in this brave new world of spectrum sharing.