The NTIA's new spectrum plan will study 'the potential for repacking, compression and relocation of airborne radars and other federal systems in the lower 3 GHz to allow for commercial use.'

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

March 12, 2024

3 Min Read
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(Source: Dmytro Razinkov/Alamy Stock Photo)

The Biden administration said it will study how to shift federal users out of the lower 3GHz band in order to free it up for commercial use. However, the government's study of the job won't be done until 2026.

Regardless, the 5G industry is viewing the development as a win. "We are encouraged by the administration's National Spectrum Strategy Implementation Plan, which comes at a crucial time as America continues to trail other countries in freeing up midband spectrum for 5G networks. We are pleased to see the administration restore NTIA leadership over spectrum studies, right the course on the lower 3GHz band, and set up a critical review of the 7/8GHz band," said CTIA CEO Meredith Attwell Baker in a statement. CTIA is the primary lobbying association for the 5G industry.

Specifically, the Biden administration this week released its "implementation" plan for the national spectrum strategy it unveiled in November. According to a new press release from the NTIA – the primary agency overseeing the implementation plan – the plan will study "the potential for repacking, compression and relocation of airborne radars and other federal systems in the lower 3 GHz to allow for commercial use."

That language is important because the US Department of Defense (DoD) currently uses the lower 3GHz spectrum band to operate its radars, satellites, navigation equipment and more. The 5G industry has been trying for years to convince the White House to reallocate some or all of that band for cellular operations, but the DoD has instead argued that it would only share the spectrum with commercial users, rather than release it completely.

Thus, the NTIA's new implementation plan appears to lean more heavily toward releasing at least a part of the lower 3GHz band for commercial uses. However, the devil will likely be in the details. It's unclear how much spectrum in the lower 3GHz band will be released for commercial use, and what restrictions might be placed on that spectrum.

Under the Biden administration's new implementation plan, the NTIA will work with the DoD to study spectrum sharing in the lower 3GHz band, as well as moving systems out of the band, compressing federal usage within the band, and any other mechanisms that would "allow for expanded or more efficient uses of the spectrum."

That study is scheduled to be released in October 2026. Another study, on freeing up the 7/8GHz band for commercial use, is scheduled for release then too.

This would be the second long-term federal study on the lower 3GHz band. The Emerging Mid-Band Radar Spectrum Sharing (EMBRSS) report was finished late last year after almost two years of work. It has not been publicly released.

The Biden administration's new implementation plan comes just a few days after the release of new legislation that would require the government to reallocate at least 600MHz of midband spectrum for commercial use within three years.

It also highlights an ongoing lobbying battle between the 5G industry and the cable industry over the fate of the lower 3GHz band. The cable industry and others have argued for sharing in the band, while the 5G industry has urged regulators to release the band under a licensed scenario.

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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