GAO says receiver performance needs to improve

The FCC should consider collecting information on the practical effects of options to improve receiver performance as one of the ways to enhance spectrum efficiency and meet the growing demand for spectrum as a result of the growth of commercial wireless broadband services and government missions, including public safety and defense, the General Accountability Office said in a recently released report.

In the past, some federal spectrum users, such as the Coast Guard and Transportation Department, have specified or mandated use of industry standards for receivers using certain agency spectrum-based services, GAO noted in "Spectrum Management: Further Consideration of Options to Improve Receiver Performance Needed." 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which manages the federal government's use of spectrum, also has mandated receiver standards for many federal spectrum assignments, such as those for land mobile radios used by emergency responders and radar systems.

The FCC, which manages commercial and other nonfederal spectrum use, believes it lacks general authority to impose receiver standards and rather relies on the marketplace to improve receiver performance. In specific cases, FCC has provided incentives for nonfederal spectrum users to improve receivers. Both NTIA and FCC have taken additional actions to improve receiver performance, such as undertaking studies and hosting public workshops.

Although industry and government have taken various actions to improve receiver performance, a number of pressing challenges remain, GAO said.

One challenge is the lack of coordination across industries when developing voluntary standards, the GAO said. Standards are often developed for a single industry and not coordinated with those using adjacent spectrum, GAO noted.

Another challenge is the lack of incentives for manufacturers or spectrum users to incur costs associated with using more robust receivers. GAO said. The benefits of improved receiver performance, namely freed-up spectrum for new services and users, often accrue to others and not those incurring the costs to improve receivers, GAO observed.

Yet another challenge is the difficulty accommodating a changing spectrum environment, GAO said. When spectrum is repurposed for a new use, upgrading or replacing receivers currently in use to mitigate interference can be difficult and take considerable time, GAO noted.

To improve receiver performance and spectrum efficiency, the GAO recommends that the FCC chairman consider collecting information on the practical effects of various options to improve receiver performance, including consideration of small-scale pilot tests of these options.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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