Obama?s science advisors urge better use of spectrum

In June 2010, President Obama issued an official memo, "Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution." In it he said:

"This new era in global technology leadership will only happen if there is adequate spectrum available to support the forthcoming myriad of wireless devices, networks, and applications that can drive the new economy.  To do so, we can use our American ingenuity to wring abundance from scarcity, by finding ways to use spectrum more efficiently."

In response, science has been pursuing a technology called spectrum sharing, the details of which emerged recently at a meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). A new federal report, to be presented to the president in late June, speculated that the public radio spectrum could be 40,000 times more efficient with the use of new computer technology and a new set of governing rules, that could increase carrying capacity 1000 fold.

At the PCAST meeting, venture capitalist Mark P. Gorenberg forecast that there could be up to 50 billion wireless devices online within eight years. And that may precipitate an even bigger spectrum crisis than the one now under review, because, said Gorenberg, "We're living with spectrum that is of a policy that was really set in motion by technology of 100 years ago...That's led to a fragmentation of the spectrum that has led to inefficiency and artificial scarcity."

Gorenberg, managing director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, joined with several other members to present the outlines of an upcoming report, "Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth." calls for a tiered system that uses vastly improved spectrum efficiency. In addition, the plan says that spectrum can be allotted as needed using computerized radio technology, in bursts as short as a few seconds.

But, then plan is likely to raise issues of public access and fairness. According to the plan, "different users would have different priority, possibly based on whether they were a government user, a user who was prepared to pay more for a higher quality-of-service."

While ordinary users would pay the lowest rate, they would also receive the lowest priority. Wrote John Markoff in The New York Times, "Unlike today's unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum, which can be used freely, the newly available spectrum would require devices 'register' in a database that would then control the terms of their access to the spectrum."

Presidential Memorandum: Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution (White House memo, June 28, 2010)

Obama Advisory Council to Recommend Greater Sharing of Scarce Airwaves (Bloomberg, May 29, 2012)

Presidential Panel Urges More Flexible Use of Spectrum (NY Times, May 25, 2012)