The Federal Communications Commission recently released a Notice of Inquiry (WT Docket No. 23-232) seeking comment on whether and how the FCC should improve its understanding of spectrum usage by FCC licensees and others subject to FCC jurisdiction.
Comments on the NOI are due October 3, 2023, and reply comments are due November 2, 2023.
The FCC traditionally has relied on third parties for metrics regarding actual spectrum usage rather than conducting its own studies. With the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence, the FCC now “anticipate[s] a greater need to consider” spectrum usage data to improve spectrum management and facilitate more efficient spectrum use.
Defining Spectrum Usage. The NOI seeks comment on defining spectrum usage, noting that prior efforts have included defining “band occupancy” as “the percentage of frequencies or channels in the band with a detected signal level that exceeds a default or user-defined threshold,” defining “occupancy” as “at any given time as the fraction of frequencies (or channels) with a detected signal level that exceeds a predetermined threshold,” and defining “spectrum occupancy” as “the probability that, at a randomly selected moment in time, a radio channel, frequency band or other frequency resource being analyzed will be in use for the transmission of information.”
The NOI asks whether spectrum usage should be broken into discrete components, such as geographic usage, frequency usage, and time usage, and if so, how these components should be defined. With respect to frequency usage, the NOI asks about appropriate band segment size, and whether it should correspond to authorized licenses or to an entire band or specific channels regardless of the number of licenses; with respect to geographic usage, the NOI asks how differences in license geographic area, population density, topology, climate, and other variables should be taken into account.
The NOI also asks about the utility of measuring spectrum usage with other RF engineering metrics (including throughput; population actually or potentially served; the number or density of end-user devices or access points; power spectral density; modulation levels; the “capacity” of a system or its ability to accommodate a high density of users; and the number of actual users compared to overall capacity) and of design techniques that address performance and reliability expectations (including analog and digital filtering; antenna design; adaptive modulation and coding techniques with error correction; dynamic frequency selection; automatic gain control; and intermodulation rejection).
Band-Specific Considerations. The NOI asks to what extent the study of spectrum usage should vary by frequency, service, or other factors: for example, fixed point-to-point or fixed-to-multipoint services vs. mobile services; radar/radiolocation services vs. systems that only transmit data or systems using waveforms that can both transmit data and determine location; subscriber-based services vs. privately controlled systems; and licensed vs. unlicensed use.
Data Collection Challenges and Methods. The NOI asks for comments on data sources that could facilitate greater understanding of spectrum usage (including existing FCC databases), and on the current and emerging markets for spectrum measurement tools. The NOI acknowledges and seeks comments on data collection challenges, including cost and burden, standardization, and technical accuracy. The NOI also asks for comments on the benefits, drawbacks, and availability of various data-gathering methods for studying spectrum usage, such as crowdsourcing (for example, embedded receiver monitoring and reporting features in handheld devices); external data sources (for example, data collected by FCC licensees and other regulated entities, wireless tower companies, universities and research organizations, and government agencies); data modeling and simulation (for example, spectrum consumption models (SCMs) that identify how devices or systems use spectrum resources in a particular environment by capturing spectral, spatial, and temporal characteristics of spectrum usage for any specific transmitter, receiver, system, or collection of systems); and direct observation.
Next Steps. The NOI asks whether the FCC should consider a field monitoring pilot program and/or prioritize specific bands for initial study and, longer term, whether it should adopt non-binding guidance (for example, a Policy Statement or best practices and recommended data definitions, structure, and formatting). The NOI also asks whether the FCC should consider obtaining data held by third parties, and what steps the FCC could take to encourage or incentivize data sharing.
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