DOD, Commerce form partnership on spectrum sharing

In a sign of progress toward goals outlined in the Pentagon’s Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy, the Defense and Commerce departments are partnering in a new collaborative framework to share communication channels. Under a signed memorandum of agreement, both agencies have committed to increased spectrum sharing, something DOD has sought for some time. 

In addition to working toward the goals of the Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy, this new spectrum-sharing agreement also lines up with provisions of the 2013 Presidential Memorandum, “Expanding America’s Leadership in Wireless Innovation,” which seeks to “further research, development, testing and evaluation of spectrum sharing technologies and other wireless-related efficiencies,” according to a release. 

This new partnership will also create the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network, a key supplement to the new Center for Advanced Communications, which was a joint effort between two Commerce agencies, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Telecommunication and Information Administration, to “leverage the ‘critical mass of NIST and NTIA research and engineering capabilities … to form a ‘unique national asset,’ and includes the infrastructure and collaborative environment needed to address a wide range of advanced communications challenges” in line with the 2013 Presidential Memorandum, according to NIST.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy, among three primary goals, set long- and short-term objectives to meet a 2010 order by President Obama to make 500 MHz of spectrum space available for commercial use by 2020.  

Spectrum sharing, especially making the spectrum more available for commercial use, will be no easy task. “Together we must identify ways to make more spectrum available for commercial use, and find technologies that enhance spectrum sharing, all while improving how DOD accesses spectrum, where and when needed to ensure mission success,” then-DOD CIO Teri Takai stated following the release of the strategy. An important balance DOD is attempting to strike is between national security and economic competitiveness, though, as officials have noted that the military needs more bandwidth concurrently with spectrum reform.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently announced it will be moving on to Phase 2 of its Shared Spectrum Access for Radar and Communications program, which seeks to to make efficient use of the spectrum and develop ways of sharing bandwidth between military radars and military communications systems and military radars and commercial communications systems.

In terms of the new NASCTN, NIST defined its functions as to:

  • Facilitate and coordinate spectrum-sharing and engineering capabilities.
  • Create a trusted capability for evaluating spectrum-sharing technologies.
  • Perform outreach activities to identify spectrum-related testing and modeling needs.
  • Protect proprietary, classified and sensitive information while facilitating maximum dissemination.

“Rapid advances in communications technology have created significant new demands for access to wireless channels,” stated Willie May, acting undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST’s acting director. “We need efficient and effective ways of sharing spectrum to continue to benefit from technology advances while balancing the needs of commercial broadband, national security and public safety.”

“Access to spectrum will advance the country’s future competitiveness and global technology leadership,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling said, noting that NASCTN will play a critical role.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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