May 17, 2016 - 1:37 pm
By Jon Wilkins | Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
Julius Knapp | Chief, Office of Engineering & Technology

Last month, the Commission finalized the regulatory structure for the innovative 3550-3700 GHz (3.5 GHz) Citizens Broadband Radio Service, culminating a regulatory process that will result in 150 megahertz of spectrum made available for a variety of wireless uses.  With the rule structure in place, it’s time to focus on putting this spectrum to use for the American people, moving from concept development to implementation. 

Yesterday marked a major milestone in implementation: parties filed proposals to become certified Spectrum Access System (SAS) Administrators and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) operators.  These two systems are the lynchpins for the dynamic sharing framework in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, and are incredibly powerful tools that will facilitate access to a significant new spectrum resource and sharing in other bands in the future.

Like much of the 3.5 GHz framework, the SAS is an advance on a well-utilized and established practice in spectrum management – frequency coordination.  The SAS builds on existing frequency coordination approaches by leveraging advanced computing to maximize the number of users that might be able to operate within a given area at a given time, making spectrum available where and when it’s needed, and enforcing protections and rights among use tiers. 

The ESC is the technological solution that will enable new commercial use in coastal areas of the United States (and some inland locations) while still protecting important federal radar operations.  An ESC is a spectrum sensor network that is able to quickly identify the presence of a radar signal, and communicate that fact to an SAS.  An SAS would then instruct Citizen Broadband Service Devices in the area to cease operations or move to a non-interfering channel to protect federal operations.

We are extremely excited about the level of interest from prospective SAS Administrators and ESC operators. We received applications from eight parties, representing a cross section of the wireless ecosystem, including operator representatives, new innovative technology vendors, existing database operators, and others.  Over the coming months, the Wireless Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology will review the SAS and ESC applications.  Applications that we believe meet the requisite qualifications and demonstrate an ability to comply with our rules will be conditionally approved; we will then test the conditionally approved systems. We will coordinate with our counterparts at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Defense to help ensure the proposed systems protect incumbent federal operations consistent with our rules. We intend to conduct this review in a very deliberate, timely, and thorough manner.

There is a significant and growing community of innovative technology developers and potential operators that are invested in the success of the 3.5 GHz band, the SAS and ESC-enabled sharing scheme, and the potential of these new sharing tools.  In February 2016, an impressive group of companies – Federated Wireless, Google, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Ruckus Wireless – committed to jointly develop and promote solutions to using the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service. The Wireless Innovation Forum, an industry-based group of over 75 wireless operators, equipment vendors, technology developers, and other innovators, has led the development of broad-based standards for SAS and ESC operators.These groups are investing substantial resources to get this concept off the ground.  

As Chairman Wheeler stated at the adoption of the Order on Reconsideration and Second Report and Order: “The government is frequently criticized for thinking too narrowly and doing things one way because that is the way they have always been done.  The Citizens Broadband Radio Service is not one of those cases.  Here, the Commission has taken bold steps to pursue a new approach.”

The filing of SAS and ESC proposals is the industry’s bold step toward making this new concept a reality, and takes us closer to proving out this solution for the 3.5 GHz band and others into the future.