Time to re-assess spectrum strategy, starting with CBRS – Entner

Roger Entner

On Tuesday, May 24, 2022 the House of Representatives will hold a hearing called “Strengthening our Communications Networks: Legislation to Connect and Protect.” The focus of the hearing will be on extending the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct auctions as a way to allocate spectrum to entities that can deploy it most quickly.

As explained in my 2016 report about the importance of wireless to the U.S. economy and my 2020 report about the impact of 4G, wireless connectivity is one of the most critical links in the U.S. digital infrastructure. Thus, while the FCC begins its process to identify and create a pipeline to more licensed, exclusive use spectrum for 5G and beyond, it behooves all of us to pause and ask, what spectrum allocation tools have been effective and which have not.

One of the most interesting case studies is what the FCC decided to do for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)  spectrum, located at 3.55 to 3.7 GHz, right in the middle of one of the most important spectrum bands for commercial 5G.

  • Why did the FCC decide to allow a spectrum sharing experiment to take place on 150 MHz of spectrum the agency had allocated for licensed, commercial 5G use?
  • Why are Priority Access Licenses called licenses? They are not licenses at all. They are merely an indication of the order in which commercial carriers can access the spectrum - subject to being interfered with by DoD.
  • What do we know about use cases and limits on utilization due to carriers having to accept being interfered with on these frequencies?
  • Does the U.S. Navy know that the 3.55 to 3.65 GHz is licensed around the world for 5G and while CBRS PAL users will not broadcast if the U.S. Navy uses their radar in U.S. waters, other countries’ wireless networks are not going to do the same? When at sea, most of the U.S. Navy is not patrolling U.S. waters. If every U.S. transmitter is an interferer of radar, wouldn’t that be true for foreign transmitters that do not have the CBRS power restrictions?
  • Why did none of the companies that were involved in the 2012 PCAST report actually invest in licenses? Why were none of the likely companies that bid on CBRS spectrum included in the report?
  • How much, and where is CBRS spectrum currently utilized? How do we define utilization in this regard?
  • Could the CBRS experiment have occurred elsewhere in the bands?
  • What revenues could have been raised to close the digital divide if the spectrum occupied by CBRS experiment were auctioned?
  • Is the SAS (Spectrum Access System) administration model the right governance model for sharing regimes in other bands?
  • Why did CommScope decide to exit the CBRS business?
  • Who is in charge? When we look at the C-Band disaster between FAA and FCC, one wonders which agency will actually control spectrum policy and allocation decisions, the DoD? DOT? DOC?

Knowing the answers to these questions is critical to the U.S. ability to establish a long-term spectrum strategy that incorporates a pipeline of access to exclusive use spectrum licenses, alongside enabling experimentation to figure out effective ways to share spectrum with incumbent users.

As we have explained in this recent note about how the U.S. is hamstrung by spectrum constraints and the relative value of spectrum in the United States, a robust national spectrum strategy will help the U.S. with its efforts to stay ahead of China as a global economic power, secure its digital infrastructure against cyber attacks and catalyze economic growth into the next century.

Roger Entner is the founder and analyst at Recon Analytics. He received an honorary doctor of science degree from Heriot-Watt University. Recon Analytics specializes in fact-based research and the analysis of disparate data sources to provide unprecedented insights into the world of telecommunications. Follow Roger on Twitter @rogerentner.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.