Spectrum summit tries to solve reallocation problems

In the battle over radio frequency between government agencies and wireless service providers, sharing is not a word often heard from the Defense Department.

But it's a word that was used repeatedly by the Defense CIO at the electromagnetic spectrum summit held last month at Commerce Department headquarters.

John Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, said he believed military and commercial users could share radio spectrum, something industry groups have long called for. To do so, he said, government regulators must be willing to 'put the burden on those who are trying to change the world, as opposed to we who are trying to defend it.'

Sharing spectrum would mean risking that commercial systems could interfere with military transmissions, Stenbit said, a situation that would mean worse consequences for DOD than for wireless vendors.

'The risk is still all mine,' Stenbit said. 'That asymmetry in my mind is absolutely untenable.'

Stenbit said telecommunications companies must be held liable if interference occurs. Defense officials argue that sharing spectrum could affect military satellite systems such as the Global Positioning System, Milstar and Defense Support Program.

Telecommunications vendors have targeted about 120 MHz of spectrum that they want to expand third-generation wireless services.

Commerce secretary Donald L. Evans said 98 percent of radio-frequency transmissions occur in less than 10 percent of the spectrum.

'That 10 percent is so popular because of its superior technical quality,' Evans said. 'Now there are new wireless technologies on the horizon, and they want to use that same 10 percent of the spectrum. So our challenge is this: How do we fit new world-leading technologies into the United States' own cramped spectrum allocation?'

Some commercial users have suggested that Defense use another band to operate its guided weapons and satellites. But DOD argues that such a move could disrupt its operations and threaten national security. Military officials also said that a new band might not have the same technical characteristics as the current spectrum.

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