DOD wages a new bandwidth battle

The Defense Department is once again fighting to protect a band of radio frequencies from industry encroachment.

But this time, it's not telecommunications companies that are eyeing the spectrum. DOD is feuding with executives from hardware and software companies, such as Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp., that are pushing for additional spectrum in the 5-GHz band.

Like their telecom brethren, the IT product vendors want access to the spectrum for similar purposes: to roll out the latest wireless services.

DOD runs many of its sophisticated radar systems in the 5250- to 5725-MHz band. The systems are "the eyes and ears of our military forces," said Badri Younes, DOD spectrum management director. The department has asked the Federal Communications Commission to place technical restrictions on the band to avoid interference.

"The key functions provided by the radar are critical and needed for national security," Younes said. "If the band is compromised, these bands have to move elsewhere and there is no elsewhere to go. They are not supposed to interfere with us. They should share with us." The debate comes as the country is preparing for possible war with Iraq and soldiers are relying on the radars like never before, Younes said.

Crowded by cordless phones

Technology companies have been operating in the 2.4-GHz band but have complained that it is now crowded with the proliferation of cordless home phones and they need additional spectrum.

In the late 1990s, FCC gave the companies 300 MHz of additional spectrum, Younes said, but they want more.

Steve Berry, senior vice president for government affairs with the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in Washington, said the IT product vendors should first prove they have the need before requesting the additional spectrum. CTIA represents the 50 largest wireless carriers.

Berry said it took his group close to a decade to prove their need for additional spectrum. Recently, CTIA and DOD reached a compromise over a band of hotly contested spectrum. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department, decided to let telecommunications companies operate in the 1710- to 1755-MHz band and DOD would relocate from that small portion.

"They need to demonstrate their need," Berry said of the companies in the current fight. "There should be a needs-based assessment. It seems to me that should be the first step."

Younes agreed. "They want it all now and this is not right," he said. "They want a lot of spectrum right away without building the technology and demonstrating it can work."

He said DOD has done an analysis on the band and has determined that the technology companies won't need the additional spectrum to develop broadband wireless until 2010.

The issue will be discussed further during the World Radio Conference this June.

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