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DOD clears mid-band spectrum for commercial 5G

The Defense Department has made another 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum bandwidth available for commercial 5G use.

The spectrum in the 3450-3550 MHz band is currently used by high-powered defense radar systems on fixed, mobile, shipborne, and airborne platforms, DOD CIO Dana Deasy said in an Aug. 10 press conference.  

"With this additional 100 MHz, the U.S. now has a contiguous 530 megahertz of mid-band spectrum from 3450-3980 MHz to enable higher capacity 5G networks," Deasy said.

In mid-April a 180-person group met to study various spectrum-sharing proposals and settled on a swath of spectrum identified in a January report from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration as feasible for time-based sharing with commercial users.

Deasy said the sharing rules are expected "to be similar to AWS-3, where for the most part the spectrum will be available for commercial use without limits, while simultaneously minimizing impact to DoD operations."

The AWS-3 auction, which closed in early 2015, raised $44.9 billion for the U.S. from wireless companies.

The Pentagon is preparing a "Spectrum Relocation Fund Transition Plan" that will help minimize disruptions to DOD operations as systems are moved or altered to enable sharing with commercial networks.

Michael Kratsios, the White House CTO and DOD’s acting head for research and engineering, called the move "critically needed" and said the sharing of the mid-band spectrum doesn't sacrifice "our nation's great military and national security capabilities."

"America needs more mid-band spectrum,” Kratsios said, “Mid-band has the ideal characteristics of 5G deployment [and] can travel long distances to ensure that all Americans have access to the network while delivering ultra-fast speed and high performance that will power the technology into the future."

The Federal Communications Commission will be able to auction off this portion of the spectrum beginning in December 2021 with the wireless industry to begin operating 5G on it by mid-2022, Kratsios said.

The move in the mid-band doesn't alter the Defense Department's strong opposition to a decision by the FCC to permit wireless provider Ligado Networks to operate a low-power terrestrial nationwide 5G network in the L-band, which is adjacent to bands used by the global positioning system. The Pentagon and senior lawmakers on the defense committees from both parties have expressed reservations about the move to license commercial users so close to the critical GPS system.

"There are too many unknowns and the risks are too great to allow the proposed Ligado system to proceed in light of the operational impact to GPS," Deasy told lawmakers in a May 2020 hearing.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to Defense Systems.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.

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