Spectrum office aids in wireless deal

'The decision is in the best interests of the country.'

' Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, director Defense Spectrum Office

Over the last two years, the Defense Spectrum Office has faced a tough fight for a crucial piece of turf: the radio frequency over which the Defense Department transmits signals for many of its missions.

As director of the Defense Spectrum Office, Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch and her team of 40 government and contractor employees are responsible for the development of spectrum management proposals for DOD. The department has faced ravenous demand for its spectrum from the rapidly growing wireless communications industry.

The spectrum office has worked closely with the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, to develop a plan that accommodates military radio traffic and the commercial need for more bandwidth.

In July, DOD and the wireless industry reached an agreement: Telecommunications companies will get a portion of the department's electromagnetic spectrum, between 1710 MHz to 1755 MHz, to develop third-generation wireless services. The 45-MHz parcel will be auctioned off no earlier than September 2004. DOD will receive compensation for the spectrum from its sale and will be allotted frequency in another band.

DOD operates missions around the world in that part of the spectrum.

'The decision is in the best interests of the country,' Cowen-Hirsch said. 'After a long time and cooperative efforts between the FCC, NTIA and DOD, I believe we arrived at a very favorable outcome.'

The wireless industry sought the 1710-MHz-to-1755-MHz band because it is expected to work well with 3G applications.

'It has good atmospheric conditions which means [it can work in] all weather conditions and through foliage when necessary,' Cowen-Hirsch said. 'It is robust for mobile communications. Physically, it is ideal for military mobile operations.'

For decades, DOD has used this radio frequency to run more than 100 sophisticated electronic systems, including satellites and tactical weapons.

But in recent years, the wireless industry aggressively sought to acquire the spectrum to develop applications that would be compatible with 3G operations that function in the same frequency in Europe and Asia. Telecom companies wanted more, but the compromise gave them this chunk, and DOD kept the rest.

'With our increased focus on network-centric warfare and our significant dependence on wireless capabilities, our dependence on spectrum is increasing dramatically,' Cowen-Hirsch said.

She said a DOD study showed that its use of mobile spectrum applications, such as handheld radios, will increase by 92 percent over the next five years.

Defense officials downplayed industry's claims that without the use of the DOD spectrum, the United States would lag behind other countries in developing wireless Internet applications.

'We have found that there is quite a bit of hype associated with what is now termed 3G wireless,' Cowen-Hirsch said, but products haven't kept pace with the hype.

Cowen-Hirsch said she is thankful the compromise won't hamper DOD.

'I think it was an equitable outcome,' she said. By assuring that DOD receives a comparable spectrum band and enough time to move to it, the deal will not affect DOD operations.

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