Defense unlikely to give up its spectrum for commercial use

Harmonizing the spectrum used by the United States with those bands used in Europe and Asia is unlikely for third-generation wireless (3G) services, say those familiar with the issue, but the industry remains optimistic that similar bands of spectrum eventually will be used worldwide. "Some people may have given up hope on harmonization in the short-term, but we will continue to do this for the rest of our long lives," said Grant Seiffert, vice president of government relations at the Telecommunications Industry Association. Some level of harmonization is necessary "as we become a more networked society globally." Harmonization has been a seminal point as members of the wireless industry try to persuade the Department of Defense (DOD) to relinquish portions of its spectrum for commercial use. The industry is urging Defense to forgo certain portions of the spectrum it currently holds because that same spectrum is used commercially overseas. "What is important about harmonization is the scope and scale it creates for consumers," Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, said at a recent meeting with reporters. Defense currently uses much of the 1710 MHz to 1850 MHz band, the spectrum that has been identified as preferable for 3G services and that is widely used in Europe and Asia for commercial services. The industry has argued that Defense will encounter interferences as it conducts missions overseas. About 89 different Defense systems are affected by spectrum decisions in other countries, Wheeler said. In reality, airwave interference is not much of a hindrance for Defense, according to Jim Lewis, director for technology and public policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "In a crisis or war-time situation, DoD is just going to turn on its systems, and that is going to be it," Lewis said. Defense gadgets are more powerful and will interfere with consumers' ability to use their cell phones, but the cell-phone use will not harm Defense's efforts. The importance of spectrum harmonization is unclear. Technology already is available that allows a wireless device to work in various bands, and there are constant improvements in the efficient use of spectrum. Wheeler agreed that more efficient ways to use spectrum are rapidly becoming available, but growing demand undermines those gains. "There is an incentive to find technologies that will mitigate the need to buy spectrum," he said, because no wireless company wants to invest the billions of dollars to buy more. The technology currently exists that allows a wireless phone to switch between spectrum bands, Lewis said. Because of these changes, "you are going to see some parts of the bandwidth opening up in the next five years." The goal is to use similar bands in a similar fashion worldwide, said Steve Sharkey, director of spectrum standards and strategy at Motorola. "The reality is, there are multiple bands, but we are trying to limit the number of bands as much as possible as we move forward."