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US studying 2,786 megahertz of spectrum to fuel “next-generation” services

Photo of a telecommunications tower combined with an illustration of radio signals.

Getty Images | Jaiz Anuar

The Biden administration is studying 2,786 megahertz of spectrum that could be reallocated for purposes including wireless broadband networks, satellites, and drones, the White House said today. Some of the spectrum bands were already being investigated by federal agencies, though inclusion in the updated national strategy may speed up those processes.

“These spectrum bands are a mix of Federal and shared Federal/non-Federal bands—with an emphasis on mid-band frequencies,” the new National Spectrum Strategy says. The bands “will be studied for a variety of uses, including terrestrial wireless broadband, innovative space services, and unmanned aviation and other autonomous vehicle operations.”

The plan details “five spectrum bands meriting in-depth study in the near term,” saying they could be useful for “expanded governmental and non-governmental use for an array of advanced, next-generation applications and services.”

The biggest chunk is from 7.125–8.4 GHz and could be used for wireless broadband. But some parts of this band will likely be off-limits to prevent interference with existing users, the spectrum strategy report said:

This 1,275 megahertz of spectrum will be studied for wireless broadband use (on a licensed and/or unlicensed basis), though some sub-bands eventually may be studied for other uses. There are, however, a variety of mission-critical Federal operations in this band (including Fixed, Fixed Satellite, Mobile, Mobile Satellite, Space Research, Earth Exploration Satellite, and Meteorological Satellite services) that will make it challenging to repurpose portions of the band while protecting incumbent users from harmful interference.

Four more spectrum bands

Another spectrum band consists of 350 megahertz from 3.1–3.45 GHz, which the Department of Defense has already studied for possible sharing with the private sector.

“DoD determined that sharing is feasible if certain advanced interference-mitigation features and a coordination framework to facilitate spectrum sharing are put in place,” the new report said. The Departments of Commerce and Defense will work on follow-up studies that “explore dynamic spectrum sharing and other opportunities for private-sector access in the band, while ensuring DoD and other Federal mission capabilities are preserved, with any necessary changes.”

One smaller band being studied is 5.03–5.091 GHz. In January 2023, the Federal Communications Commission sought public comment on rules to let unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) use the band.

“The FCC, in coordination with NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) and the Federal Aviation Administration, is expected to take near-term action to facilitate limited deployment of UAS in this band,” the White House report said. “Thereafter, this 61 megahertz of spectrum will be studied so that the FCC can optimize UAS spectrum access across the band while avoiding harmful interference to other protected in-band and adjacent-band operations.”

The National Spectrum Strategy also includes 500 megahertz in the 18.1–18.6 GHz range and 600 megahertz in the 37.0–37.6 GHz range. The 18 GHz band is already authorized for fixed satellite service downlink operations, but could gain an additional authorization for space-to-space transmissions.

The 37 GHz band “will be further studied to implement a co-equal, shared-use framework allowing Federal and non-Federal users to deploy operations in the band,” the report said.

US hopes to prevent spectrum battles

More generally, the plan calls for collaborating with industry over the next 12 to 18 months “to advance research, create investment incentives, and set forth measurable goals for advancing the state of technology for spectrum access, with an emphasis on dynamic forms of spectrum sharing for all users.”

Repurposing spectrum can lead to public battles over potential interference, including a recent high-profile fight over 5G deployment between airlines and wireless carriers. Such battles often involve competing studies that present wildly different conclusions. The White House plan calls for formalizing standards of analysis to prevent disputes over whether one use of spectrum will interfere with another use.

Spectrum management should rely “upon unbiased technical, scientific, mission, and economic analyses,” the spectrum strategy said. “To provide greater visibility into, and acceptance of, key studies, and to reduce contention and disputes of findings, the US Government will formalize its best practices for conducting these analyses in support of spectrum management decisions. Studies should be peer-reviewed, and the underlying findings should be published to the greatest degree possible.”

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