FCC investigates smart radios

A notice of proposed rule-making released this week by the Federal Communications Commission might lead to big changes in oversight of the nation's radio-frequency spectrum, according to Mike Chartier, head of the industry's Software Defined Radio Forum.

The notice, issued Wednesday in Order FCC 03-322, seeks ideas on how to encourage use of smart radios, or wireless communications devices that are more flexible at using RF spectrum.

FCC chairman Michael Powell, in a statement accompanying the notice, said that smart radio technologies will become necessary. There is a shortage of spectrum for new wireless services, while much of the spectrum already allotted goes unused.

'Studies have indicated that much of the available spectrum lies fallow much of the time on geographic, time and frequency bases,' said a position paper on cognitive radios issued last month by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Smart radios 'can utilize spectrum that is not already in use,' the IEEE said.

Public-safety agencies will benefit from the new technologies, Chartier said.

'Because they can use different frequencies and modulation techniques, smart radios could also translate signals between different radio systems,' Powell's statement said. 'In an emergency, firefighters from one jurisdiction could more effectively communicate with firefighters in another.'

The FCC wants to create incentives for industry to think more creatively about spectrum, Chartier said. For instance, spectrum space that is devoted to public-safety agencies goes unused for long periods of time. The commission might look for ways in which that spectrum could meet other needs, provided first responders can instantly reclaim the space when necessary, Chartier said.

The Defense Department's next-generation Joint Tactical Radio System uses software-defined radio technologies, which let wireless communications devices switch waveforms. The reprogrammable radios, based on an open-communications architecture, will provide U.S. commanders and warfighters with interoperable voice and data communications capabilities.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has also funded a number of technologies that use dynamic frequencies. DARPA has funded cognitive radio work by Joseph Mitola, a consulting scientist for Mitre Corp. of McLean, Va. Mitola coined the terms software radio and cognitive radio.

Cognitive radio draws on artificial intelligence to automatically negotiate the best transmission path based on factors it evaluates internally, such as what space other radios are using.

DARPA is also sponsoring the Next Generation Communications program, or . XG radios will be able to scan the frequencies within their operating range and use those not already in use. The military needs them in places where they are unsure of which frequencies are already in use, DARPA director Anthony Tether said at a briefing at the Defense Research and Engineering Exposition in Washington last month.






About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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