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DOD Opens Door to Next-Stage Wireless

Spectrum sharing may enable an unprecedented ability to connect and communicate.
An agreement to share the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum will benefit the U.S. Defense Department and the rest of the country. Credit: GDJ/Pixabay

An agreement to share the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum will benefit the U.S. Defense Department and the rest of the country. Credit: GDJ/Pixabay

Anyone who has worked in the Pentagon or on almost any military installation can attest to wireless connectivity problems. Whether dealing with a dearth of cellular service, inadequate Wi-Fi or security blockers, service members and civilians have felt the frustration of not being able to access information or communicate effectively.

While gradual improvements have been made, the defense community soon will see some of the greatest connectivity since the early days of Wi-Fi. That’s because the Defense Department—along with the rest of the United States—is on the verge of benefiting from a decision the department, by way of the Navy, agreed to in 2015 to share a coveted band of radio frequency spectrum previously reserved for national security assets.

The Citizens Broadband Radio Service or CBRS, is 150 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band that has been made available in an unprecedented sharing arrangement between government and industry. Now, after years of approvals, adoptions of standards, and testing, several companies are poised to unleash equipment and services in 4G and 5G technology on the CBRS band. If you aren’t familiar with OnGo, you soon will be.

This transformational change in public and private wireless service began quietly after the Navy, which has long operated mission-critical radiolocation services in the 3550-3700 MHz band, agreed to share the spectrum with other government and commercial users as long as military leaders were confident that growth in the space would not disrupt existing operations.

That confidence grew out of a remarkable partnership of military, civilian government and commercial service providers that ushered in research and development, testing and standards to protect military assets from interference. This includes modeling by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that shows when small-cell networks operating in the vicinity of the military must be moved to different bands to avoid interference with national security assets.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the shared use of CBRS, which became known as “the innovation band” for the possibilities it can unleash—from improving connectivity in buildings and remote areas to creating private LTE networks.

In establishing rules for the shared band, the FCC broke from existing practices of auctioning spectrum. Instead, it created a three-tier sharing system of incumbent access, priority access and general authorized access. The process ensures interference protection and uninterrupted use by the incumbents (military and satellite ground stations) and makes additional spectrum available for flexible, wireless broadband use, assigned on a case-by-case basis. When use of the spectrum is no longer required, the specific channel is freed up and made available to other users.

In the coming weeks and months, expect to see commercial providers begin operations in the CBRS. Only time will tell what they can accomplish, but the CBRS Alliance, a consortium of more than 120 technology companies; the Wireless Innovation Forum; and others instrumental in the shared spectrum see great possibilities for more capacity, less latency and better connections.

The spectrum will allow for huge growth in wireless networks, which could bring reliable service inside the Pentagon and also extend broadband to rural or rugged areas. CBRS allows for the proliferation of 5G technology, which will support the spread of Internet of Things connections, as well as the massive amounts of data collected, allowing for better analysis. For the first time, organizations will be able to run their own private LTE networks, giving government agencies total network control, stronger security and better interoperability.

The CBRS is a remarkable achievement, in both symbolism and practice, for government and industry. As industry becomes operational in CBRS in the coming months, we expect it will live up to its “the innovation band” moniker, creating dynamic progress in wireless, and leading to more government and industry collaboration. It all began with trust from the Navy and a willingness for all to work together but should lead to an unprecedented ability for the Defense Department to connect and communicate.

Brian Wright is the director, Systems Engineering–Federal, Ruckus Networks.