Spectrum reallocation no longer feasible, says Wireless Innovation Forum president

Whether it’s a lack of noticeable effort to preserve spectrum for wireless mic use, a proposed reshuffling of federal and non-federal spectrum users that could eliminate some 2GHz spectrum available for ENG use, or the incentive auction and repacking initiative undertaken by the FCC, television broadcasters are entering a period during which significant disruptions to long-established ways they use spectrum aren’t simply likely, but nearly certain.

While broadcasters have shown a willingness to work with regulators to satisfy new spectrum demands, a fundamental request made by the television industry since the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan — the driving force behind spectrum overhaul — in March 2010 has been for a comprehensive inventory of spectrum usage. In other words, who is using which frequencies for what purposes.

The call for such a comprehensive inventory has often been seen by some in the wireless industry and in the regulatory community as a delaying tactic that in effect threatened to indefinitely delay reallocation of 500MHz to wireless mobile broadband applications.

That’s why it was surprising to learn that the Wireless Innovation Forum (WIF), a nonprofit association concerned with the future of radio communications and systems, announced earlier this month that it supports the NAB in its call for a comprehensive inventory of present and future spectrum use by all parties, including the wireless, satellite and broadcast industries, as well as the government.

In a press release announcing its backing of the NAB’s request for a comprehensive spectrum inventory (most recently made in a filing with the Wireless Bureau which is seeking comments on wireless competition in the United States), Wireless Innovation Forum CEO Lee Pucker is quoted as saying, “Given the complex intertwining of existing spectrum licenses, reallocation of spectrum is no longer feasible due to high cost, length of time to implement and disruption of service.”

From a broadcaster’s point of view, one need look no further back than the completion a few years ago of the 2GHz Broadcast Auxiliary Service relocation to get Pucker’s point. That effort cost Sprint Nextel roughly $750 million to move some broadcast ENG operations to a swath of spectrum between 2025MHz and 2110MHz. Recently, the Department of Defense has made it clear that it would like some of the 2GHz spectrum allocated to ENG if it gets bumped out of some bands it currently uses. No wonder Pucker said “reallocation of spectrum is no longer feasible.”

There are alternatives, however. Pucker observed that “a number of regulatory mechanisms exist to increase the shared use and access of selected bands, while continuing to ensure that systems can operate without disruption or harmful interference.”

While the FCC completed a baseline inventory of spectrum use in 2011, the NAB has argued that it was not sufficient because the effort failed to gather “any comprehensive data on how intensively wireless companies use the spectrum already licensed to them.” The net result has been tools like the FCC’s LicenseView and Spectrum Dashboard that offer an overview of license holding but don’t “analyze or assess” how efficiently the spectrum is being used.

The WIF agreed and would take things a couple of steps further. First, it said it favors an approach to spectrum management leading to a spectrum dashboard that deliver a real-time or near-real-time view of the radio environment for any given location at any given time. Second, it would like to see an inventory of current and future spectrum use that includes both licensed and unlicensed applications.

While the Wireless Innovation Forum took no position on the NAB’s view expressed in its comments to the Wireless Bureau that the “commercial wireless industry's continued push for more spectrum with no bounds is not sustainable as a practical matter,” the broadcast industry should be heartened by having an ally in the WIF.