Key Players Converge in Boston to Share Views on Spectrum Sharing

Wireless Wonk

Key Players Converge in Boston to Share Views on Spectrum Sharing

By Barlow Keener, Attorney  |  July 29, 2013

From April 23-24, 2013, the White House's Networking and Information Technology Research and Development WSRD (Wireless Spectrum (News - Alert) Research & Development, or Wizard) group met at MIT to discuss spectrum utilization. Meeting days after the Boston Marathon Bombing and in the MIT Stata Center, the sight of the killing of MIT Officer Sean Collier, one of the panels included Brookline Police Department's Scott Wilder, director of technology and communications, and Don Denning, CIO for public safety for the City of Boston. Both police officers participated in the crisis.   

Officers Wilder and Denning explained the key importance of the use of spectrum in helping save the injured at the scene and finding the killers in the days that followed. In particular, Officer Wilder pointed out the role Brookline's 2.4gHz Wi-Fi municipal mesh network and 4.9gHz spectrum played in giving Brookline police officers unprecedented access in their vehicles to computers and video during the crisis. 

 The 4.9gHz spectrum allowed Brookline officers to move off of cellular data cards, which became unusable, and onto 4.9gHz without interruption. Officer Denning explained the issues regarding the use by Boston officers of cell phone spectrum and police radio spectrum, and the need for broadband on the crime scene. He questioned whether FirstNet would provide the bandwidth needed. FirstNet is the federal public safety entity that is charged by Congress with using the Incentive Auction funds to build a nationwide public safety network. The efficient utilization of spectrum was experienced first-hand by public safety during the tragic week in Boston.

 Spectrum sharing policy is being formed in real time. The FCC (News - Alert) has three active proceedings all focused on developing our future spectrum policy: the TV Incentive Auction 600mHz proceeding; the 3.5gHz proceeding; and the 5.9gHz proceeding. Each of the proceedings has different spectrum issues. The WSRD meeting discussed the primary goal of creating a spectrum sharing policy today that can be used to frame spectrum sharing in the future.  

Led by MIT Professor Bill Lehr, the WSRD Boston meeting including key spectrum academics like Pierre de Vries, economists like Armand Musey and the Brattle Group's Giulia McHenry, attorneys, analysts such as Mark Lowenstein, the spectrum sociologist Mark Cooper, and industry senior representatives from AT&T, T-Mobile (News - Alert), Google, ComSearch, Spectrum Bridge, NTIA, NTRD, National Science Foundation, the FCC, New America Foundation, Marcus Spectrum, and MITRE. Each represented different viewpoints on creating the most effective spectrum sharing and worked for two days to tease out spectrum sharing issues and policies involved in each of the FCC dockets.

 The FCC's 5.9gHz proceeding purported to use 5.9gHz to become the new Wi-Fi with Gbps speeds:

 The FCC today takes the first steps to unleash significant additional spectrum to accelerate the growth and expansion of new Wi-Fi technology that can offer faster speeds of one gigabit per second or more, increase overall capacity, and reduce congestion at Wi-Fi hot spots.

 Broadband is the primary goal. The secondary goal is protecting existing government, industry, and public unlicensed users in the bands. The FCC's Feb. 20, 2013, proposal for opening up 5.9gHz seems uncontroversial on its face. The FCC proposed creating 195mHz of unlicensed, shared spectrum from 5.35-5.47gHz and 5.85-5.925 gHz. The proceeding is required, the FCC stated, to comply with Congress' directive in the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2012 to amend Part 15 for Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure devices to operate in the 5.35-5.47gHz band. Currently U-NII devices are operating in the 5.15-5.35gHz and 5.47-5.85gHz bands.  

 In 1999, the FCC allocated 75mHz of the 5.85-5.925gHz band for the exclusive use of the intelligent transportation industry. Intelligent Transportation Society of America members have been developing equipment and industry standards for a connected vehicle program using dedicated short-range communications in the 5.9gHz band to deliver information between vehicles and road systems instantly. The specific band would, if assigned exclusively to DSRC devices, take away 75mHz from the DSRC of the 195mHz proposed to be unlicensed in the 2013 NPRM. 

Such DSRC systems are vital to changing the death rate on our roads. Using DSRC devices at 5.9gHz, would, for example, give vehicles knowledge of other cars approaching an intersection that were on the other side of bushes or a building. Limited interference and the ability to use non-802.11 standards in the 5.9gHz spectrum has been crucial in the development of these systems. The need for DSRC connected vehicles is real because 30,000 people die on U.S. roads annually, or 250 are killed every three days. Automobile deaths are the leading cause of death for ages four to 34. DSRC and smart cars can lower this number. Millions of dollars of public and private funds have been expended on DSRC systems, all using 5.9gHz. These efforts and funds cannot go to waste. 

On the other hand, the spectrum could be more efficiently utilized. Like Officer Don Denning explained at WSRD, everyone agrees that the demand for more spectrum is needed for broadband purposes. FCC is struggling to make sure that prior spectrum policy implemented by the FCC like the 50-700mHz TV unlicensed Super Wi-Fi White Spaces use, the 3.5mHz radar and satellite ground station use, and the 5.9mHz connected vehicle program are not interfered with in a way that will cause harm to existing programs.  

There is a way to thread the needle, but the FCC will have to consider the best course. The WSRD attendees agreed that the spectrum proceedings before the FCC now will pave the way for the most efficient use spectrum in the future bands. If exclusive use is granted, spectrum will be underutilized. In some cases priority use of spectrum will work, in other cases new IEEE (News - Alert) 802.11 standards will provide a way to run the rapids without interfering, still in other cases the geo-location database model such as from the White Spaces proceeding with strict receiver limits is the answer.  

Delay by the FCC will not be helpful, but getting the right spectrum sharing solution is imperative.

Barlow Keener (News - Alert) is the principal with Keener Law Group ( out of Boston.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi