White House panel urges President to develop plan for more flexible use of wireless spectrum

A presidential panel of experts wants President Obama to ignore Congress and the various lobbying groups and adopt new technologies on his own to make better use of spectrum now controlled by federal agencies.

The panel said a shift in spectrum usage, which could be accomplished with the president’s signature and without Congressional approval, would relieve congestion caused by the growing popularity of wireless mobile devices.

The new plan, in preliminary form, was presented publicly last week to a meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST. It calls on the government to electronically rent or lease spectrum for periods of time as short as seconds using newly available computerized radio technologies

The report is expected to be presented to President Obama after final editing next month. The New York Times released the public presentation.

The new radio technology was pioneered during the late 1990s and is described as “cognitive” or “agile” radio. Such computer-controlled radios inside a wireless mobile device can rapidly switch the frequencies they broadcast and receive on based on an arbitrary set of rules. The Times described it as a bit like a freeway system, where individual vehicles can quickly switch lanes or drive more closely together.

The authors of the report include Eric E. Schmidt, the chairman of Google; Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer; and Silicon Valley venture capitalists Mark P. Gorenberg and David E. Liddle.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has recently advocated the concept of using computer-based technologies to increase spectrum. In two speeches this month, he has advocated spectrum-sharing technologies to make room for the wireless data explosion.

The panel’s report is a response to an edict by President Obama calling on federal agencies to find ways to clear 500 megahertz of spectrum to make way for the growth of new wireless services during the next decade.

In the report, the authors cited a recent European study that found that freeing 400 megahertz of radio spectrum to be shared using new technologies would be equivalent to an economic financial stimulus of 800 billion euros.

Gorenberg, who presented the report before the committee last week, said the amount of wireless data that has been transmitted by the large number of smartphones and wirelessly connected tablets has doubled every year for the last four years. He said that there would be as many as 50 billion devices transmitting and receiving wireless data by 2020.

However, he said that the committee’s authors believed that it possible for computerized radio systems to share spectrum on a vastly more efficient basis, so much so the situation can be changed from an era of scarcity to one of abundance.

The group, the Times reported, concluded that the spectrum could be used as much as 40,000 times as efficiently as it is currently and the committee recommends an approach that could increase capacity 1,000 fold.

“We’re living with spectrum that is of a policy that was really set in motion by technology of 100 years ago,” Gorenberg said. “That’s led to a fragmentation of the spectrum that has led to inefficiency and artificial scarcity.”

The report calls for a tiered system in which different users would have different priority, possibly based on whether they are a government user, a user who is prepared to pay more for a higher quality-of-service,” or a casual user who might be assigned the lowest priority and pay the lowest rate.

Unlike today’s unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum, which can be used freely, the newly available spectrum would require devices “register” in a database that would then control the terms of their access to the spectrum.

The report also calls on the president to create a “synthetic” currency that could be used to entice federal agencies into offering more spectrum to the system. “The agencies don’t have an incentive to move forward,” he said. “We think a carrot approach is a much better approach.”

In response to questions after his presentation, Gorenberg said that foreign competitors were already aware of the potential economic value of the new radio technologies and that the United States was in a contest to develop systems quickly.

“I think this is a worldwide race,” he said. “There are people looking at this everywhere. This is something that is very important to the U.S. to lead here to have our vendors out front so they can export their products overseas.”