ITIF Report Charts Path to Spectrum Reallocation Policy for Mobile Communications Revolution

July 31, 2012

WASHINGTON - Policymakers need to move beyond current approaches and reform the spectrum allocation system to maximize the economic opportunities created by the mobile communications revolution, according to Powering the Mobile Revolution: Principles of Spectrum Allocation, a report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

A dramatic shift to mobile devices, wireless networks, and location-centric applications could reshape society. However, U.S. spectrum allocation policies are not keeping pace with innovation and global competition. The report warns the current system for reallocating spectrum has created a critical shortage of spectrum in the most dynamic sector of the economy while over-allocating spectrum to wasteful or obsolete systems.

"It is time to acknowledge the spectrum crunch is real and technical advances that promise to resolve it will not arrive for a very long time," said Senior Research Fellow Richard Bennett, the report's author. "We need to begin reallocating spectrum in a rational way to deal with this crunch while working to speed up technological breakthroughs that we will use in tomorrow's wireless networks."

The report explains the United States leads the world in the adoption of 4th Generation LTE technology but it lags the rest of the developed world in re-purposing spectrum from legacy systems to LTE. Therefore, it is critical to release spectrum to the most successful commercial networks through reassignment of government applications and the transfer of licenses from declining systems such as MSS and OTA television broadcasting to high-value mobile broadband.

Incentive auctions called for in the National Broadband Plan are not enough to facilitate this reallocation according to the report. Exclusive use of spectrum by government agencies must be scrutinized for opportunities to upgrade applications to modern standards and shift them to commercial networks.

The report is a comprehensive set of spectrum management principles based on empirical knowledge of the nature of spectrum and the likely timeline of new developments in radio engineering. It also proposes a scoring system using recent and pending agency decisions to help establish new spectrum policies based more on the latest understanding of spectrum technology and more consistent with advancing innovation in the mobile communications arena.

A rational system of spectrum assignment would respect the following:

  1. Sharing: The most desirable allocations are those that can be shared by large numbers of people. Broadcast television can longer claim the share it once did.
  2. Application Flexibility: Historical spectrum allocations have been made to single-purpose systems such as AM/FM radio, TV, satellite TV and radio, and taxi networks need to yield to commercial mobile networks and Wi-Fi™ networks that host a variety of applications.
  3. Dynamic Capacity Assignment: Allocate to systems that can bring supply and demand into balance.
  4. Technology Upgrade Flexibility: Why prevent the deployment of more advanced systems such as CDMA and LTE by regulatory fiat? Instead, allocate spectrum in a way that permits technology upgrade without permission and expects that all technologies will have limited lifespans as better technologies are developed.
  5. Aggregation Efficiency: Large allocations have an efficiency advantage over small ones, as they can support large user populations and diverse applications.
  6. Facilities-Based Competition: Allocate to create the ideal number of networks, a number that is most likely to be larger than two and smaller than six in most instances.
  7. High-Performance Receivers: Contrary to the views of some spectrum idealists, every spectrum system must be carefully engineered to work in a specific noise environment. It's proper for regulators to require greater performance by receivers year after year.
  8. Use of all Relevant Dimensions: As more advanced technologies are developed, allocation principles should come to recognize new dimensions. The TV White Spaces notion is a step in this direction, adding time to the factors that condition spectrum usage rights.
  9. Promotion of New Technologies: One of the most important roles the FCC's spectrum policy has played over the years is to create markets for new communication technologies such as satellite, cellular, Wi-Fi™ and ultra-wideband by allocating spectrum for their use ahead of actual network deployment. Rules modification rather than exclusive allocation is the means of enabling the next generation of spectrum technologies.
  10. Development of Redeployment Opportunities: In line with the notion of rules liberalization and clarification, spectrum policy must recognize that today's problem is one of re-deployment and multiple use rather than new greenfield assignment, incumbent opposition notwithstanding.


"Breaking the spectrum logjam depends on more liberal spectrum policies, better informed principles of spectrum rights, a better understanding of spectrum technology, and a great deal of hard, detailed work on the management of specific spectrum bands," Bennett said. "This system of grading spectrum assignments puts all the relevant factors in play without falling victim to an excess of optimism."


The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank at the cutting edge of designing innovation strategies and technology policies to create economic opportunities and improve quality of life in the United States and around the world. Founded in 2006, ITIF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-partisan organization that documents the beneficial role technology plays in our lives and provides fact-based analysis and pragmatic ideas for improving technology-driven productivity, boosting competitiveness, and meeting today's global challenges through innovation. For additional information, visit ITIF at or contact Steve Norton at (202) 626-5758 or

Contact: Samantha Greene
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