The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is requesting input from the public on new technological approaches to assessing “real-time, non-Federal (government) spectrum usage, so that it has better insights into current technologies that might help the agency to manage spectrum and identify opportunities for spectrum sharing—including how artificial intelligence (AI) might be used.
This FCC Notice of Inquiry (NOI) was approved by all four members of the Commission. It states:
“Spectrum usage information is generally non-public and made available infrequently. As the radiofrequency (RF) environment grows more congested, however, we anticipate a greater need to consider such data to improve spectrum management. That is especially true as the burgeoning growth of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) offer revolutionary insights into large and complex datasets. Leveraging today’s tools to understand tomorrow’s commercial spectrum usage can help identify new opportunities to facilitate more efficient spectrum use, including
new spectrum sharing techniques and approaches to enable co-existence among users and services.”
Spectrum usage has been defined in various ways. In one technical paper, for instance, NTIA and NIST defined “band occupancy” as “the percentage of frequencies or channels in the band with a detected signal level that exceeds a default or user-defined threshold.”
“Right now, so many of our commercial spectrum bands are growing crowded,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Hundreds of millions of wireless connections—from smartphones to medical sensors—are using this invisible infrastructure. And that number is growing fast. But congestion can make it harder to make room in our skies for new technologies and new services. Yet we have to find a way, because no one wants innovation to grind to a halt. To do this we need smarter policies, like efforts that facilitate more efficient use of this scarce resource. … Now enter AI. A large wireless provider’s network can generate several million performance measurements every minute. Using those measurements, machine learning can provide insights that help better understand network usage, support greater spectrum efficiency, and improve resiliency by making it possible to heal networks on their own.”
“[This] inquiry is a way to understand this kind of potential and help ensure it develops here in the United States first. “I believe we can do more to increase our understanding of spectrum utilization and support the development of AI tools in wireless networks,” she added.
Rosenworcel noted that some pioneering work on dynamic, cognitive radios was kick-started with the Defense Advanced Research Project’s three-year Spectrum Collaboration Challenge, which sought to develop software-defined radios’ capability to dynamically detect other spectrum users and work around them in a congested radio frequency environment.
The FCC pointed out in a statement that it generally doesn’t collect information on spectrum usage, and instead relies on intermittent data from third-party sources.
“As the radiofrequency environment becomes more congested, leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence to understand spectrum usage and draw insights from large and complex datasets can help facilitate more efficient spectrum use, including new spectrum sharing techniques and approaches to enable co-existence among users and services,” the agency said, adding that the inquiry will explore the “feasibility, benefits, and limitations” of various ways to understand non-federal spectrum usage, as well as band- or service-specific considerations and various technical, practical or legal aspects that should be considered.
Spectrum sharing is a methodology that allows multiple wireless networks to access the same frequency band dynamically and efficiently. It can reduce the spectrum scarcity issue and enable more wireless applications and services, but also requires careful coordination and management to avoid interference and ensure fair access.
Examples of spectrum sharing techniques include Licensed Shared Access (LSA), which uses a regulatory framework to permit licensed users to share spectrum with incumbent users, Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA), which enables wireless networks to sense and adapt to the spectrum environment, and Spectrum Aggregation, which combines multiple spectrum bands or channels into a larger bandwidth. LSA can be used by mobile operators to access spectrum that is not used by TV broadcasters, DSA can be employed by cognitive radio networks to detect and avoid channels occupied by primary users, Spectrum Aggregation can be used by 5G networks for coverage and speed.
The wireless telecom industry has to take a “concerted look at revolutionizing spectrum sharing” and to take a closer look at the lessons learned from CBRS spectrum sharing [1.], which took about a decade to be successfully implemented, according to Andrew Thiessen, chair of the spectrum working group at the Next G Alliance who was speaking at the Informa Big 5G conference panel session in Austin, TX. He opined that the industry needs to be pushing ahead with spectrum sharing technologies and techniques at speeds similar to the innovations that are being applied to smartphones.
Note 1. Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), which allows for dynamic spectrum sharing between the Department of Defense and commercial spectrum users. The DOD users have protected, prioritized use of the spectrum. When the government isn’t using the airwaves, companies and the public can gain access through a tiered licensing arrangement. This means the DOD can use the same spectrum for its critical missions while companies can use it for 5G and high-speed Internet deployment.
“Innovative spectrum sharing frameworks are key to unlocking additional bandwidth for wireless connectivity across the country,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information April McClain-Delaney said. “The success and growth of the CBRS band shows the promise of dynamic spectrum sharing to make more efficient use of this finite resource.”
Joe Kochan, executive director of the National Spectrum Consortium, agreed that spectrum sharing for 6G does present challenges as it faces a wide range of commercial users, federal users and non-federal users, as well as different types of technologies, such as radar. That elicits a need for the industry to build new tools and to get more creative about how that spectrum can be shared.
The Biden administration’s National Spectrum Strategy will “lay the framework” to get everything moving, said Derek Khlopin, deputy associate administrator, spectrum planning policy, at the NTIA. “We’re tech and application-neutral. But the better we understand, the better we can plan.” he explained.
“We’ve started listening, to be frank,” Khlopin said. “But it’s not necessarily the role of the government to figure all of this out. We need help, so we’re working closely with industry, with academia and others. Spectrum sharing is here to stay between federal and non-federal users,” he added.
Khlopin was asked about NTIA’s exploration of the 7GHz band and its potential for 6G. “It’s a very complicated band,” he said. “There’s a lot there … We’re aware of the industry interest there.”
Thiessen said one challenge for 6G will be a lack of contiguous spectrum. He believes that 6G will likely be made up of a lot of pieces of spectrum, and those pieces will likely need to be targeted to specific use cases. However, that presumption is premature as neither 3GPP or ITU-R WP5D has started any serious work on defining 6G specifications. That is why all the buzz about 6G is irrelevant at this time.
SNS Telecom & IT‘s latest research report indicates that annual spending on (3GPP specified) 5G NR and LTE small cell RAN (Radio Access Network) infrastructure operating in shared spectrum [1.] will reach nearly $4 Billion by 2024 to support a variety of uses including private cellular networks for enterprises and vertical industries, densification of mobile operator networks, FWA (Fixed Wireless Access), and neutral host connectivity.
Note 1. Spectrum sharing is the simultaneous usage of a specific radio frequency band, in a specific geographical area, by a number of independent entities (usually wireless telcos). In other words, it is the “cooperative use of common spectrum” by multiple users. Spectrum sharing also can take many forms, coordinated and uncoordinated.
Release Date: January 2021 Number of Pages: 592 Number of Tables and Figures: 94
As the 5G era advances, the cellular communications industry is undergoing a revolutionary paradigm shift, driven by technological innovations, liberal regulatory policies and disruptive business models. One important aspect of this radical transformation is the growing adoption of shared and unlicensed spectrum – frequencies that are not exclusively licensed to a single mobile operator.
Telecommunications regulatory authorities across the globe have launched innovative frameworks to facilitate the coordinated sharing of licensed spectrum, most notably the United States’ three-tiered CBRS scheme for dynamic sharing of 3.5 GHz spectrum, Germany’s 3.7-3.8 GHz licenses for private 5G networks, the United Kingdom’s shared and local access licensing model, France’s 2.6 GHz licenses for industrial LTE/5G networks, the Netherlands’ local mid-band spectrum permits, Japan’s local 5G network licenses, Hong Kong’s geographically-shared licenses, and Australia’s 26/28 GHz area-wide apparatus licenses. Collectively, these ground-breaking initiatives are catalyzing the rollout of shared spectrum LTE and 5G NR networks for a diverse array of use cases ranging from private cellular networks for enterprises and vertical industries to mobile network densification, FWA and neutral host infrastructure.
In addition, the 3GPP cellular wireless ecosystem is also accelerating its foray into vast swaths of globally and regionally harmonized unlicensed spectrum bands. Although existing commercial activity is largely centered around LTE-based LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) technology whereby license-exempt frequencies are used in tandem with licensed anchors to expand mobile network capacity and deliver higher data rates, the introduction of 5G NR-U in 3GPP’s Release 16 specifications paves the way for 5G NR deployments in unlicensed spectrum for both licensed assisted and standalone modes of operation.
Even with ongoing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic slowdown, SNS Telecom & IT estimates that global investments in 5G NR and LTE small cell RAN infrastructure operating in shared and unlicensed spectrum will account for more than $1.3 Billion by the end of 2021. The market is expected to continue its upward trajectory beyond 2021, growing at CAGR of approximately 44% between 2021 and 2024 to reach nearly $4 Billion in annual spending by 2024.
The “Shared & Unlicensed Spectrum LTE/5G Network Ecosystem: 2021 – 2030 – Opportunities, Challenges, Strategies & Forecasts” report presents a detailed assessment of the shared and unlicensed spectrum LTE/5G network ecosystem including the value chain, market drivers, barriers to uptake, enabling technologies, key trends, future roadmap, business models, use cases, application scenarios, standardization, spectrum availability/allocation, regulatory landscape, case studies, ecosystem player profiles and strategies. The report also provides global and regional forecasts for shared and unlicensed spectrum LTE/5G RAN infrastructure from 2021 till 2030. The forecasts cover two air interface technologies, two cell type categories, two spectrum licensing models, 12 frequency band ranges, seven use cases and five regional markets.
Important research findings from the report include the following:
- Even with ongoing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic slowdown, SNS Telecom & IT estimates that global investments in LTE and 5G NR RAN infrastructure operating in shared and unlicensed spectrum will account for more than $1.3 Billion by the end of 2021. The market is expected to continue its upward trajectory beyond 2021, growing at CAGR of approximately 44% between 2021 and 2024 to reach nearly $4 Billion in annual spending by 2024.
- Breaking away from traditional practices of spectrum assignment for mobile services that predominantly focused on exclusive-use national licenses, telecommunications regulatory authorities across the globe have launched innovative frameworks to facilitate the coordinated sharing of licensed spectrum.
- Notable examples include the United States’ three-tiered CBRS scheme for dynamic sharing of 3.5 GHz spectrum, Germany’s 3.7-3.8 GHz licenses for private 5G networks, the United Kingdom’s shared and local access licensing model, France’s 2.6 GHz licenses for industrial LTE/5G networks, the Netherlands’ local mid-band spectrum permits, Japan’s local 5G network licenses, Hong Kong’s geographically-shared licenses, and Australia’s 26/28 GHz area-wide apparatus licenses.
- Collectively, these ground-breaking initiatives are catalyzing the rollout of shared spectrum LTE and 5G NR networks for a diverse array of use cases ranging from private cellular networks for enterprises and vertical industries to mobile network densification, FWA and neutral host infrastructure.
- In particular, private LTE and 5G networks operating in shared spectrum are becoming an increasingly common theme. For example, Germany’s national telecommunications regulator BNetzA (Federal Network Agency) has received more than a hundred applications for private 5G licenses in 2020 alone. Dozens of purpose-built 5G networks are already in operational use by the likes of aircraft maintenance specialist Lufthansa Technik, industrial conglomerate Bosch, automakers and other manufacturing giants.
- Since the commencement of its local 5G spectrum licensing scheme, Japan has been showing a similar appetite for industrial-grade 5G networks, with initial field trials and deployments being spearheaded by many of the country’s largest industrial players including Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electric, Sumitomo Corporation and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
- Among other examples, the 3.5 GHz CBRS shared spectrum band is being utilized to set up private LTE networks across the United States for applications as diverse as remote learning and COVID-19 response efforts in healthcare facilities. 5G NR-based CBRS implementations are also expected to emerge between 2021 and 2022 to better support industrial IoT requirements. Multiple companies including agriculture and construction equipment manufacturer John Deere have already made commitments to deploy private 5G networks in CBRS spectrum.
- Mobile operators and other cellular ecosystem stakeholders are also seeking to tap into vast swaths of globally and regionally harmonized unlicensed spectrum bands for the operation of 3GPP technologies. Although existing deployments are largely based on LTE-LAA technology whereby license-exempt frequencies are used in tandem with licensed anchors to expand mobile network capacity and deliver higher data rates, standalone cellular networks that can operate solely in unlicensed spectrum – without requiring an anchor carrier in licensed spectrum – are beginning to emerge as well.
- In the coming years, with the commercial maturity of 5G NR-U technology, we also anticipate to see 5G NR deployments in unlicensed spectrum for both licensed assisted and standalone modes of operation using the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands as well as higher frequencies in the millimeter wave range – for example, Australia’s 24.25-25.1 GHz band that is being made available for uncoordinated deployments of private 5G networks servicing locations such as factories, mining sites, hospitals and educational institutions.
The report will be of value to current and future potential investors into the shared and unlicensed spectrum LTE/5G network market, as well as LTE/5G equipment suppliers, mobile operators, MVNOs, fixed-line service providers, neutral hosts, private network operators, vertical domain specialists and other ecosystem players who wish to broaden their knowledge of the ecosystem.
For further information concerning the SNS Telecom & IT publication “The Shared & Unlicensed Spectrum LTE/5G Network Ecosystem: 2021 – 2030 – Opportunities, Challenges, Strategies & Forecasts” please visit: https://www.snstelecom.com/shared-spectrum
For a sample please contact: [email protected]
About SNS Telecom & IT:
Part of the SNS Worldwide group, SNS Telecom & IT is a global market intelligence and consulting firm with a primary focus on the telecommunications and information technology industries. Developed by in-house subject matter experts, our market intelligence and research reports provide unique insights on both established and emerging technologies. Our areas of coverage include but are not limited to wireless networks, 5G, LTE, SDN (Software Defined Networking), NFV (Network Functions Virtualization), IoT (Internet of Things), critical communications, big data, smart cities, smart homes, consumer electronics, wearable technologies, and vertical applications.