White House debuts national spectrum strategy, includes study of lower 3 GHz

Today, the Biden Administration released a National Spectrum Strategy, identifying 2,786 MHz of airwaves to study for new uses. Specifically, the strategy identifies five spectrum bands for in-depth study in the near term.

The first band identified for more study is the lower 3 GHz (3.1-3.45 GHz). The U.S. wireless community has anxiously been awaiting a Department of Defense (DoD) report related to this 350 MHz of spectrum and whether it can be shared with the private sector. Today’s strategy document says, “DoD determined that sharing is feasible if certain advanced interference mitigation features and a coordination framework to facilitate spectrum sharing are put in place.”

The DoD and Department of Commerce will co-lead more studies that focus on future use of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band. And additional studies will explore dynamic spectrum sharing and other opportunities for private-sector access in the band.

The other four bands identified for near-term study include:

• 5030-5091 MHz: The FCC, in coordination with NTIA and the Federal Aviation Administration, will facilitate limited deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in this 61 MHz of spectrum.

 • 7125-8400 MHz: This 1,275 MHz of spectrum will be studied for wireless broadband use on a licensed and/or unlicensed basis, and some sub-bands eventually may be studied for other uses. There are, however, a variety of mission-critical federal operations in this band, including fixed, fixed satellite, mobile, mobile satellite and space research that will make it challenging to re-purpose portions of the band while protecting incumbent users from harmful interference.

• 18.1-18.6 GHz: This 500 MHz of spectrum will be studied for expanded federal and non-federal satellite operations, consistent with the U.S. position at the upcoming 2023 World Radiocommunication Conference, which would add space-to-space allocations to this band.

• 37.0-37.6 GHz: Building on prior collaborative efforts of NTIA, DoD and the FCC, this 600 MHz of spectrum will be further studied to implement a co-equal, shared-use framework allowing federal and non-federal users to deploy operations in the band.

The National Spectrum Strategy is careful to warn that stakeholders “must recognize that ‘studying’ a band for potential repurposing to enable more efficient use does not prejudge the outcome of the study (i.e., that all, part, or none of the band ultimately will be repurposed as a result of the study).”

New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin wrote today that the spectrum strategy puts more spectrum on the table to be studied than had been anticipated.

“NTIA had said it would put at least 1500 MHz on the table to be studied. It put 2786 MHz, including upper mid-band spectrum in the 3 GHz and 5 GHz range, as well as high-band spectrum in the 7 GHz-8 GHz range, the 18 GHz band, and the 37 GHz band,” wrote Levin. But he noted that “Not all spectrum is of equal value, with the higher bands losing value outside of dense metro areas.  And not all the spectrum will face equal political and administrative barriers to reallocation. Still, by putting more on the table than anticipated for potential reallocation, the Administration creates a favorable environment for commercial wireless interests.”

Spectrum sharing

The spectrum strategy also stresses the need to advance wireless technology with an emphasis on dynamic spectrum sharing. To that end, the government will implement a “moonshot” effort within 12-18 months, in collaboration with industry, to set forth measurable goals for technological advancements.

The government will also establish a national test bed for dynamic spectrum sharing. This test bed will enable the identification of short-term access of federal and non-federal spectrum for experimentation. The test bed will also serve as a technical demonstration platform.

Of the strategy’s commentary around spectrum sharing, there is a debate in the spectrum community about the success of the CBRS sharing paradigm, with mobile carriers highlighting its weaknesses, and those relying on sharing saying the early results are promising. Of today’s strategy, Levin wrote, “The Plan does not foreclose more sharing, but it does not provide a ringing endorsement."

The National Spectrum Strategy released today comes after the NTIA conducted public outreach through a request for comment, two public listening sessions, a government-only listening session, two Tribal Nation consultations, and one-on-one meetings with stakeholders, including federal agencies.

The strategy document published today states that its implementation must in no way limit the FCC’s statutory role as the regulator of non-federal spectrum use, or NTIA’s statutory role as the agency responsible for federal spectrum use.


Initial comments flowed in after release of the spectrum strategy.

Rhonda Johnson, executive vice president of Federal Regulatory Relations at AT&T stated, “We are encouraged that the administration recognizes the spectrum needs of mobile network operators and has included the lower 3 GHz and 7 GHz bands for study and potential repurposing for full-power licensed use. We hope this reallocation will help correct the mid-band spectrum imbalance that currently prioritizes unlicensed and federal uses.”

WifiForward said, “We are heartened to see that the National Spectrum Strategy identifies the 7 GHz band as a candidate to address the nation’s growing demand for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies, and we encourage an expedited process for making it available for these services as quickly as possible.”

CTIA President & CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, said, “It is a critical first step, and we fully support their goal of making the 7/8 GHz band available for 5G wireless broadband and their decision to re-study all options for future full-power commercial access to the lower 3 GHz band.”