Spectrum is like real estate:  they’re not making any more of it.  As demand increases, congestion continues to worsen.  The people in charge — the FCC and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), which coordinates spectrum for the federal government — are running through a catalog of attempted solutions.  The use of spectrum auctions is part of the process, on the thinking that somebody who pays a lot of money for bandwidth will work to get the most possible use out of it.  So are the much-delayed "refarming" rules, which require manufacturers of two-way radios to cram the same communications into ever-smaller slices of spectrum.  The switch to digital TV, although touted for improved picture and sound quality, also has the happy benefit of quadrupling the carrying capacity of each channel.

Now, trying yet another approach, the FCC and NTIA have jointly announced a "Spectrum Sharing Innovation Test-Bed" to explore ways of better sharing spectrum between federal and non-federal users.  The FCC is offering use of the 470-512 MHz band, home to TV channels 14-20 and many thousands of two-way radio users.  NTIA is putting up the nearby 410-420 MHz government band, used for law enforcement and protection of the President and other personnel, plus telemetry, paging, and a wide variety of other federal applications.

Beyond those basics, the simultaneous FCC and NTIA announcements are amazingly vague.  We learn that each test is limited to 10 MHz.  We also learn that NTIA is particularly interested in "Dynamic Spectrum Access" (DSA) technologies, defined as those which use spectrum sensing and/or geo-location to identify available frequencies, and can reconfigure themselves to those frequencies automatically.  (The concept seems very similar to the FCC’s notion of "cognitive radio.")  The study’s three phases will consist of laboratory testing at the NTIA’s facilities in Boulder, Colorado; evaluation of capabilities; and field tests.

The NTIA notice lists eight criteria for evaluation, but these too are unhelpfully general.  (How well does the technology achieve the study goals?  How well does the technology explore creative and original concepts?)  The criteria do little to clarify what the agencies might be  looking for.

NTIA wants to hear from would-be participants by February 29.  The FCC invites non-governmental participants to indicate their interest by applying for experimental licenses.

Links are as follows:

FCC public notice NTIA public notice

NTIA press release