National Security and Spectrum for 5G
This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on July 25, 2023. Watch the event recording here.
James A. Lewis: – but the U.S. is, in some ways, a little bit behind other countries when it comes to how we think about spectrum and how we think about 5G. 5G is the core of economic growth in the future, and so paying attention to how we meet the spectral needs of 5G is crucial.
We have a great discussion today. I’m going to introduce our two primary speakers, and then they’ll be followed by a panel. But, let me say that we are grateful that Jessica Rosenworcel, chair of the Federal Communications Commission, has agreed to come and speak on the topic today. She brings over two decades of communications policy experience and service to the FCC. Prior to joining FCC, she was the senior communications counsel for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, under the leadership of John D. Rockefeller, who many of us in the room knew and admired, and Senator Daniel Inouye, another admirable figure. Before entering public service, she practiced communications law in Washington, D.C.
The moderator for the discussion with Chairwoman Rosenworcel will be Clete Johnson, a non-resident senior fellow here at CSIS. He’s a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, senior advisor for cybersecurity at the Department of Commerce, the FCC’s first chief counsel for cybersecurity, and also a former employee of Senator John Rockefeller. So with that – I should add that Clete was, as a child, an officer in the U.S. Army. (Laughter.) So we’re grateful. Thank you for doing this.
Clete, Jessica, if I could ask you to come on up.
Clete Johnson: Thanks so much, Jim. And thank you to CSIS and, most importantly, to Chairwoman Rosenworcel for joining us today. As Jim said, when I was a child, a wee babe out of college, I served as a logistics officer in the Army, which informs a lot of my own personal take on these issues of the overlap between commercial strength and national security.
So we’ll unpack that a little bit today, but I just really want to – I want to thank my former colleague, now Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who, as we’ll discuss, has been one of the – she’s been a leader or, at least, an in-depth participant in essentially every spectrum policy discussion going back to the early 3G era. I’ll let you all do the math on that, but she’s been leading on these issues for a long time.
And I just want to start this discussion with just an open-ended question. How do you see – and through those experiences, how do you see the importance of U.S. leadership on these issues? What difference does it make? What is the – we’ve talked about the quarterback effect. How does it affect U.S. technology, security, commercial interests?
Jessica Rosenworcel: Well, first of all, thank you, Jim. Thank you, CSIS, for having us here. And thank you, Clete, even though you invited people to do the math about how long I’ve been working on spectrum policy. (Laughter.)
I think it’s good when you start these discussions to really go back to the beginning, because it was 50 years ago this April that Marty Cooper stood on a street in New York City with a bulky, brick-like, two-pound device, and he made the first wireless call. You know, the legend has it that Marty, who was working for Motorola, called his competitor who was at Bell Labs and said he had done it. So that very first call started with a bit of spite. But where we went from there is fairly tremendous, because a decade and a half later, for a few thousand dollars you could have one of those devices. And a little after that, we found ourselves in the second generation of devices, with voice and texting. And then the 3G era, where we brought in new internet capability.
But where we really kicked into high gear in the United States was in the 4G era, because a bunch of things came together. We developed the smartphone here on our shores. We made available lots of spectrum in the 700 megahertz band to make sure those phones connected. You could go online, and you could watch a video, and do lots of things. And then the applications economy grew up here. All of those things came together, and it really turned the United States into a wireless powerhouse.
And here we are, in the early days of the 5G era. And I think as it’s evolving, if we do this right the least interesting thing will be our phones, because we’ll bring wireless functionality in the world at large. We’ll put sensors in so much around us, making us more effective, more efficient. And that’s warehouse logistics, industrial equipment management. It is devices that are used for medical and military purposes – all of it. And when I think about that wireless transformation from that phone call made in New York City to something where everything’s connected in the world around us, what I want is that innovation to take place on American soil with democratic values, because when we do that, we grow our economy here, but we also export those values to the rest of the world. And I think that makes us stronger as a matter of both our economy and our national security.
Mr. Johnson: All at once.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: All at once.
Mr. Johnson: You mentioned – so just for the audience’s awareness, just to hammer home that point, 5G is not just telephones. It is telephones, but it’s really the devices that will provide ubiquitous connectivity throughout our society and, not coincidentally, will produce and collect more data than has ever existed in history. And authoritarian regimes like China are well aware of this. They have a very different approach to data and what it can be used for than we do. And so one thing I want –
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well said.
Mr. Johnson: – to just jump into is what – how do you see – as we head to the World Radio Conference, for instance, coming up later this year, there’s a pretty significant gap, particularly in license of mid-band spectrum, that you might call the arteries of the 5G ecosystem, very significant gap between what China has allocated domestically, what the U.S. has allocated domestically, and, maybe even more importantly, what China is supporting for harmonization at the World Radio Conference. I think the United States is supporting 80 percent less than China is for global harmonization. Does that matter? And, if so, why? Is this something to be concerned about?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well, the short answer is yes, it matters a lot. The longer answer begins with why mid-band spectrum is so important. You don’t have to be an engineer to understand this, but mid-band spectrum is the sweet spot for 5G deployment because it has a mix of propagation and capacity. And it’s where we think we’re going to be able to develop all of those services that are beyond the phone.
And in the United States, I think we were a little slow in the last administration to understand just how important mid-band spectrum is for 5G. Our early auctions were with higher-band spectrum and millimeter wave. But we pivoted pretty fast, and we now have a lot of airwaves that we’ve made available for commercial use in mid-band.
And what’s happening next is at the end of this year we have an event called the World Radio Conference, which is kind of like the Olympics for spectrum nerds. So we’re very excited at the Federal Communications Commission. But it’s an event where every four years the world comes together to talk about wireless policy and to identify where we can harmonize our efforts.
And the United States heads into this conference and it’s going to be challenging, because the world’s taken note of our success in 4G and they are doubling down on their efforts in every country to try to see if they can reproduce some of that success in 5G. That’s especially true in China. And we are challenged in the United States because we are having a harder time identifying how to repurpose mid-band spectrum for new commercial use. And that’s not the case in other countries.
We’re also challenged in the United States because, for the first time in three decades, the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, which is a tool we use to distribute these airwaves, has lapsed, and Congress is going to need to renew it.
So this conference is going to be more challenging than ones that came before. And I’d like us to enter it from a position of strength, and that would mean supporting more mid-band spectrum with United States plans in mind, and also having that spectrum auction authority. I think if we can have both of those things, we’ll have the wind at our backs.
Mr. Johnson: I was going to get to the spectrum auction authority. But since you raise it, can you just give a – you’re very familiar with how the proceedings go.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Again, you’re saying how long I’ve been doing this. (Laughs.)
Mr. Johnson: (Laughs.) Experience. You soaked it up really quickly
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Yeah, OK. We’ll go with experience. We’ll go with experience.
Mr. Johnson: How practically – what does it do for the U.S. delegation that goes to Dubai –
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Yeah.
Mr. Johnson: – if the FCC does not have auction authority?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well, I think it’s important to recognize that the ways that we assign spectrum for commercial use have – they vary around the world. And for a long time in this country they just left it up to regulators like me to say, here, you get some for broadcasting. Here, you get some for other purposes. And we just doled it out based on political favor.
But somewhere along the line, Congress decided that they would borrow some of the academic ideas of Ronald Coase and say: How about instead we just auction it off, and maybe that’s the way to put it to its highest and best use? So when we identify airwaves we want to push into commercial markets, the FCC, you run auctions.
And those auctions have been a big deal. Some of the economists associated with the FCC’s work on this have won the Nobel Prize. We’ve held more than a hundred auctions over the 30 years we’ve had this authority and we’ve raised $233 billion. That’s billion with a B. We might be in Washington but that’s still an awful lot of money.
So we’ve been managing this invisible infrastructure in a really efficient and effective way. The world’s taken note. So many countries come and visit the United States and want to learn from our auction experts how we divvy up our airwaves and what our policies are.
So that tool which has helped us be a leader in the world is not something that we have in our toolkit anymore because on March 9th Congress let that authority lapse. It is absolutely essential we get it back because it shows that we are committed to continuing this practice of making airwaves available for new commercial use and using creative tools like auctions to do it.
Mr. Johnson: Right. And on the floor in the lead up, you know, something from – Jim mentioned my Army background. In NATO, in our alliances, the United States is the – forgive me, I’m a football fan – we’re the – we’re often the quarterback and you have this quarterback effect where other countries and allies that are important allies but maybe don’t have the capabilities that we have look to us to kind of lead the way.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: That’s right.
Mr. Johnson: Is there a similar dynamic in the diplomatic arena? I know it’s a very different arena but do countries or our partners look for us to be the quarterback?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well, we have this great history. Look what we did with 4G technology. Look at how long we’ve had auctions to distribute these airwaves. There’s an understanding that we’re creative when it comes to these policies. We build industries on top of these airwaves that can really go out and change the economy and change the world.
So there’s so much interest in what the United States is doing and historically we’ve been able to rally lots of others around us in that process and then take advantage of the scale economy we offer, bring others in, and help grow their technology sectors back home.
I mean, a lot of our wireless work has – we’ve benefited from being in a leadership position. You say quarterback. I would say, like, Pied Piper. We get people to follow us. But I think that’s challenged right now.
The world’s taken note of how successful we’ve been and there are other countries and they do not have democratic values at their core that are organizing very fast to try to make sure that others follow them and use equipment that they develop and work with standards that they develop and leave us on the side and we can’t let that happen.
Mr. Johnson: So I want to tie that point together with something else you mentioned. You referred to the invisible infrastructure. In my view – I’m not a spectrum engineer. Spectrum – radio frequency spectrum is inherently abstract. It’s an invisible radio wave and the –
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Where you can’t see.
Mr. Johnson: Exactly. As opposed to other infrastructure or other elements of the communications systems be it government or commercial. I think our policymakers get the importance of a trusted supply chain. They get the importance within that – within the trusted supply chain of trusted chips and semiconductors, which are, you know, tiny but they’re not invisible.
So the long way of saying with this U.S. leadership in mind all of the investments that the government has made in secure and trusted diverse supply chain $50 plus billion for the CHIPS Act, 1.5 billion (dollars) in – for the Wireless Innovation Fund administered by NTIA, a whole host of other political and diplomatic capital spent.
Will those efforts work if we run out of spectrum? It seems like just the other part of the equation that is invisible.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Yeah. They’re most powerful if we work together. I mean, what we did in the CHIPS Act is really historic. We said we’re going to do some advanced industrial planning chips, which are semiconductors, those little pieces of silicon that help with electrical current in computers and smart phones and so much modern equipment.
We produce an alarmingly small percentage in this country and we’re going to change that. We invested $50 billion to change that. I think that’s really smart. It makes sure that our supply chain for these devices are not – won’t be at risk. We’ve also decided to invest in open radio access network equipment to try to produce the next generation of equipment vendors that help power 5G and beyond. All of those things are really smart, but they’re going to go further, faster if we have spectrum that’s available for new commercial use. So we’ve got to combine them all to be truly effective.
Mr. Johnson: So the next question on this has to do with scale, and this gets back to the global harmonization. Another initiative that the U.S. government and the FCC, under your leadership and even your predecessor’s leadership, has undertaken enormous steps to push out or mitigate the risk of untrusted suppliers in our commercial ecosystem, commercial wireless ecosystem in particular. If China is successful at the WRC in aligning the world around its spectrum bands, does that put that, you know, the so-called rip-and-replace, other initiatives that are aimed at mitigating the untrusted suppliers – does that put that at risk by just creating this, you know, another kind of tsunami of new, untrusted equipment?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well, you want to make sure that all your policies are working well together, and we certainly do have that risk. I think what’s kind of amazing during this last administration, the current administration, the last administration, is really growing consensus that there are certain equipment vendors whose presence in our networks creates security risk. And the FCC, working with national security authorities, has identified some of those vendors, including Huawei and ZTE, and working with Congress the FCC has decided we’re going to help carriers take it out of their networks and pay for replacement. That’s a program we colloquially call rip-and-replace. We still have some work to do with Congress to make sure we get the funds to do that, but we have sent a signal to the world: We don’t trust this equipment and you shouldn’t either. And there are definitely other countries who have heard us loud and clear and are also making efforts to restrict the use of this equipment in their networks. But we can only go so far if we don’t also make sure that we clear more spectrum, build more scale, and develop software and equipment alternatives so that the rest of the world has other places to go when they want to plan for spectrum and they want to buy equipment.
Mr. Johnson: You’ve teed up the discussion we’re going to have with the industry panel right after this. We’ll get into the economics and the technical aspects of a pipeline for future planning. So with that in mind, why do we need to – this is something I’ve heard you say before; I won’t put words in your mouth, but long-term planning is very important, but we need near-term action. Why is that? Unpack that a little bit.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well, I think it’s just because I’m impatient. (Laughs.) I’ve definitely, sitting at the helm of the FCC, I want to get something down right now. I also think that sometimes in Washington we invest in long-term planning at the expense of making immediate progress. And I don’t want us to avoid making some progress in the here and now. So a few things I think we can do in spectrum fast is, first, get Congress to return spectrum auction authority, to make sure we’re in a more powerful position as we head to the World Radio Conference. I also know there’s a lot of studying under way about the lower 3 gigahertz band and what we might be able to make available for new commercial use. I’m mindful that China has proposals for the World Radio Conference and a portion of the lower 3 gigahertz band. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to have some frank discussions about what we can do ahead of the conference. And then finally, I think once we get that spectrum authority back, we should really look at what kind of inventory auction we can hold because we’ve got a lot of licenses and a lot of different bands that are at the FCC and we might be able to throw them all together and produce an auction sooner rather than later, and I think that would be prudent to do. It would allow a lot of carriers to round out their holdings and maybe bring more service to more rural places in this country.
Mr. Johnson: Right. Right. Well, is that – one thing that is sort of the unspoken challenge here and something we’ve all talked about is what I see as a fallacy that there is government incumbent spectrum, largely or significantly the Department of Defense and those military systems that kept me safe in combat zones, on one side, and that’s the – you know, previously known as national security spectrum. And then on the other side there’s commercial spectrum that’s, you know, for companies to make money and consumers to watch cat videos. Is that the right – I personally think that that’s a fallacy of this – a false dichotomy. And I think it’s dangerous, if we approach spectrum policy from that standpoint. But is it doable to take a more holistic look at how the United States collectively perceives it? Am I too optimistic to think we might be able to do that?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: No, I think we – I think we badly need to do that. Look, you’re speaking to this as a former Army officer. I’m the daughter of an Air Force veteran. I think it’s in our bones that national security comes first. I mean, it’s the duty of every public servant to think about public safety. But I think the zero-sum game that we’ve managed to create is not yielding any benefits at this point. I think we have to recognize that we are incredibly creative when it comes to technology in this country.
And if we can develop spectrum policy that supports that creativity, what we’re going to do is build industries, technologies, services that are going to develop and support the civilian economy, but they’re also going to help support our national security. I mean, we’ve already seen that with wireless technology to date. We see that now with the commercial space economy. And I think we should try to figure out how we develop more of it from here. And breaking down that zero-sum attitude is probably the first step in doing that.
Mr. Johnson: Do you think that 5G allows for a particular – just the holistic integration of the 5G economy, does it help provide a positive feedback loop from the commercial sector to the government sector, from the defense industrial base and the intelligence community back? Is there a way to kind of turbocharge this, where there’s a positive feedback loop of innovation, spectral efficiency, you know, new sharing capabilities?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Yeah. We have to be a little more creative about spectrum across the board. I think we produced an environment where we talk about it only in terms of scarcity. So we have to ask ourselves, what policies are really making it feel so scarce? I think we got to look at more dynamic access systems, more opportunities for federal preemption, if use is only occasional, with secondary rights for commercial actors. I think that a lot of our spectrum policy discussions are stuck in this zero-sum game, and a binary belief that it’s yours or theirs. And we got to figure out how to break that down. And, frankly, we got to do it fast because there are other countries in the world that are eager to exploit us not making progress.
Mr. Johnson: Yeah. Well, you’ve talked a little bit about the steps you think we can take. How do we – and you participated in the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, the Pipeline Act, all of these laws that you were involved in writing. Are there any things that we can do now that can – that can shift the focus to spectrum capabilities and turn scarcity into necessity for innovation?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: So one of the things that we focused on since I’ve been at the FCC, and I’ve had a lot of support from my colleagues, is thinking about receivers. Most of spectrum policy is about transmitters, how we send out a signal. But there’s not a lot of thought given to receivers. And for the first time ever, we put out a policy statement on receivers. The reason that matters is that more efficient receivers can use our airwaves more effectively, prevent the likelihood of harmful interference. So much of government procurement and government thinking about spectrum has focused on transmitters. I think we’ve missed the opportunity to also focus on receivers. And receiver efficiency and making sure it’s a part of government procurement thinking could also be another way to help us start being more efficient with our airwaves.
Mr. Johnson: Are there any numbers – I don’t know if numbers is the right technical term – but do we have data on that, on the –
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: I think it hasn’t been – yeah.
Mr. Johnson: I don’t know that –
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: I don’t think it’s been studied well enough, but as you look at our airwaves, you got to identify everything we can do differently to make ourselves more effective. Because if you have receivers that are better built, and are tighter, they’re less likely to bleed into adjacent airwaves. You’re less likely to have interference. And so if you introduce new spectral neighbors, you’re less likely to have problems. And I think that the way to change that at scale is to make that something that the government thinks about in procurement, and even the military too.
Mr. Johnson: Yeah, a great point. So we’ve talked a little bit about – so when we – when we were colleagues, you were the far and away expert on anything having to do with telecommunications and the commercial environment. I was focused on the intelligence side of things.
Mr. Rosenworcel: Yeah, so we never knew what the intelligence people were doing because they’d go into a locked room –
Mr. Johnson: It’s funny. Well, this –
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: – and emerge with no details.
Mr. Johnson: (Laughs.) That’s exactly what I’m getting at.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: (Laughs)
Mr. Johnson: When you have – in an environment now, where I feel like our own careers have now converged, where commercial communications and 5G is now inescapably a security issue. And I’ve been in those – in those rooms where the commercial interests are surrounded or literally outnumbered in an interagency meeting, and it seems often in the discussion that the commercial interests are seen as lesser – less important, secondary to the – to the real, hard security issues. How do you see this playing out, for instance in the IRAC – the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee – or at the FCC? How do we – how do we break through? How do we – as Jim started this out, how do we modernize our approach to security so that all of those equities are at the – are literally at the table?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well, I think that we need to make sure that security is a part of every conversation we have at the FCC. We are working on a world where we connect so much more around us. That’s not just your phones, your wired and wireless devices; it’s all of these sensors in the world. And all of that efficiency is fabulous. All the information it produces, the patterns we’ll be able to recognize, what we’ll be able to do with artificial intelligence is incredible. But every one of those points in our landscape that use wireless communications introduce vulnerabilities. And so commercial security and national security are going to go hand in hand, and we’re going to have to develop more cooperative relationships so that we talk about it together and work on it together. And I think that’s true for government, the private sector – both of us, absolutely.
Mr. Johnson: Great.
Well, I think we’ve reached the time here. I just want to thank you again for everything you’ve done in your – in your present position and past positions to lead on these issues. I think you really have helped accelerate this convergence of an understanding of commercial security is national security. And look forward to what we’re – what we’re doing. We will bake some of your ideas and insights into the third paper in our series, that we’ll try to lay out some concrete recommendations for how do we get past the zero-sum game and advance U.S. interests more broadly.
Is there anything you’d like to – like to close with?
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: No, but I think your final point is perfect: How do we get past that zero-sum game and advance U.S. interests more broadly?
Mr. Johnson: Great.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Well said.
Mr. Johnson: Great. All right, we’ll leave it at that.
For the online audience, we’re going to take a two- or three-minute break for our – for our next panel. It takes just for the – for everyone’s awareness, it takes four adults to replace Chairwoman Rosenworcel. (Laughter.)
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: No, no.
Mr. Johnson: So – but we’ll get a few more chairs up here and we’ll be back in about two minutes.
Chairwoman Rosenworcel: Thank you.
Mr. Johnson: Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Mr. Johnson: Thank you, everybody. And I’m very pleased to be back here with some dear friends and colleagues in the – in the telecom industry. What we’re going to hope to do here is further discuss and unpack some of the issues we discussed with Chairwoman Rosenworcel a moment ago. But first, let me introduce this august group of experts.
First we have Diane Rinaldo, who’s a former head of NTIA; a former senior staffer on the House Intelligence Committee; and presently, among many other roles, the executive director of the Open RAN Policy Coalition.
To my immediate right is Chris Boyer, who I think I’ve worked with on cybersecurity and communications security issues for almost 15 years. He is – has a vast portfolio at AT&T, the small – a small startup company you may have heard of, heads just about every security policy issue that the company faces; and is also the chair of the Open RAN Policy Coalition and works with Diane in that capacity.
To my immediate left is John Hunter, who is a technical expert on standards – so, John, please correct me if I use any terminology wrong – and also, quite importantly for this discussion, he’s a combat veteran who started off his career as a signal officer in the Marine Corps. Is that right?
John Hunter: Army.
Mr. Johnson: Army. See. We talked about this. My grandad was a signal officer in Okinawa. John has had combat experiences that directly pertain to some of the issues we’re talking about today.
And finally, Patrick Welsh, who heads a whole host of spectrum and technology issues at Verizon.
So I just want to kick things off, and I’ll turn to Diane first just to – at the high level, commercial strength and national security. Diane worked for Chairman Mike Rogers, who is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee; the very first – if I’m not mistaken – the very first U.S. government entity that publicly stated that Huawei and ZTE constitute a security threat. So, like me, Diane has worked on the hard security side and also the commercial communications side of things.
And so, Diane, just a very high-level question: How do you see that relationship, commercial strength and national security? Do you see those as two bifurcated things? Or how do you see them fitting together, overlapping?
Diane Rinaldo: I mean, they’re definitely connected. And in the concept of economic security as national security, it’s well agreed on between all parties. I think there are some concepts in Washington, D.C. that get used often, and that’s one of them; race to 5G, again, often used, right? And everyone can agree that the U.S. dominance in the race to 5G is incredibly important.
But I think we need to start peeling back the onion a little bit more and discuss what that means. What does it mean for economic – for U.S. economic power to underpin national security? Why is it important that the U.S. dollar is the reserve currency for the world? It’s because it puts us in a position where we are able to lead. We lead on R&D. That allows us to lead in standards bodies. That allows us to lead in manufacturing and deployment. And that’s so incredibly important, not only for our own fiscal future but for our allies in order to bring them into the fold and so they are making smart decisions along with us.
And I think sometimes when you have discussions that people do tend to fall along different lines. And I think the verbiage on this issue sometimes gets a little bit dangerous when you have people talking about planes falling out of the sky, when you have people demeaning what 5G is that it’s just dropping calls. As the chairwoman said, it’s more than a phone call. It’s data. It’s connecting everything.
I think it’s so incredibly important that we do events like this where we’re able to bring together all sides and talk about how can we work together to advance the economics of the United States, to advance the economics – excuse me – the national security of the United States. And it happens, and it happens often. And we’ve seen this in chips, where policymakers have come together to say semiconductors in chip manufacturing is incredibly important. Congress appropriated $50 billion dollars. I think it’s time for wireless to have our chips moment. It’s time to coalesce all policymakers around how important it is that we remain dominant.
And the conversation that we have is because we’ve remained so dominant for so long in the spectrum space. I think this is a tough conversation. It’s not going to get easier as we go along. It’ s not going to get easier as we move to the next G. So it’s important to figure out how we can work together, how we can have these conversations. It’s not a zero-sum game. We all win at the end of the day when we can agree and move forward.
So, again, thank you to Clete and to CSIS for having this conversation and being able to communicate in order to move this ball forward.
Mr. Johnson: So, as we discussed in the last panel with Chairwoman Rosenworcel, a lot of this issue – and I think this is particularly the case for the large wireless carriers – is about supply chain and having a diverse set of choices among trusted suppliers. So I just want to – again, at a high level, and then we can get into what the United States is trying to do at the World Radio Conference, but just before we get into that, can you just articulate, from your three companies’ perspectives, whoever would like to go first, how do you see the future of a diverse supply chain? And are you concerned that spectrum policy might have an effect – a potentially negative effect on this, on the supplier diversity?
Mr. Hunter: I’ll start. John Hunter, again, T-Mobile.
You know, I think it gets down to, you know, global harmonization, if you will, in terms of – so these are – these are global manufacturers. They manufacture equipment for countries around the globe. And when limit ourselves here in the United States to specific bands or unique frameworks, if you will – a good example would be the CBRS band. Others would argue that that was a novel approach to making spectrum available.
But then on the other side of that coin is the fact that you’ve now created a technology that reduces the utility of that spectrum because of some of the conditions that you put on that. So when you start peeling away bands that could be used globally, I believe you’ve going to find some hesitancy on global manufacturers to produce that equipment, if there’s only a small set of customers that actually need to use that equipment here in the U.S.
So the important thing here, as we look at the global landscape, is really to understand where are the sweet spots of spectrum being used, particularly in mid-band? And how can we find a balance to reallocating some of that spectrum for commercial access but, at the same time, understand and appreciate the national security concerns around some of these critical military systems? Mid-band spectrum is touching a lot on radar systems. And so I think there’s a way that we can do that. I know we’re looking and studying a lot on how we can share within that band.
But I would say you have to – also have to be realistic and pragmatic and understand when sharing does not work, you know, we need to change the vernacular of what sharing is. I think in this study that’s being done today in lower three, it’s all about coexistence, sharing on the same channel. How do you do that dynamically? Well, a lot of the things that are being studied from that type of sharing perspective don’t exist, and that technology is years away, you know, to coming to fruition.
So I think there’s a way to, again, change the vernacular of what sharing means. If sharing isn’t going to work from a co-channel perspective, then we need to look at perhaps partitioning the band and reserving a majority of the spectrum for military use cases but, at the same time, looking at a portion of that band that’s internationally harmonized and figuring out a way that we can reallocate that for commercial use.
Mr. Johnson: I’m going to get into this a little bit more, but just real quickly can you describe the differences between what’s called dynamic sharing and then other types of sharing, so-called static sharing, geographic, temporal? Just a quick little primer on that.
Mr. Hunter: Sure. Yeah, so when we talk about dynamic sharing, it’s the ability to sense the presence of emissions from another system and then shift to – a good example of that would be with Wi-Fi, the DFS, dynamic frequency selection. Wi-Fi does that all the time with certain military systems. The Wi-Fi router senses the presence, moves to a different channel to avoid the interference. Again, we don’t have that technology today in commercial wireless, particularly when we’re talking about these higher power levels.
And then there’s – there would be a time-based sharing where it’s coordinated. There’s a system whereby a particular user could have access to the spectrum a percentage of the time, whereas the other new entrant may get access another part of the time. So there’s a time-based approach. And then geographic approaches. Much of what was tried in the 3.45 to 3.55 auction, which is a – this ambit concept where the military identified critical, what they call, cooperative planning areas, where these are areas where the DOD has deemed that they’re going to use those systems for training, and here are geographical areas that industry’s going to have to coordinate with DOD to make use of that system.
So there’s a lot of ideas around how we can do this to make this work. But I would add just given the power levels we’re talking about, with some of these mid-band systems that DOD has, hundreds of megawatts of radars, it’s very difficult to find a sharing technology that would allow that to work. So I think you start – you need to start looking at other ways of sharing to bring that to fruition. And, as I said, I think you do that by band partitioning.
Mr. Johnson: So I want to turn to Patrick and Chris to answer that same question, the connection between – sorry, we have a little feedback there – the connection between spectrum and supplier diversity. And then we both – we can circle back to what do we do about it.
Patrick Welsh: Well, I think, obviously, supplier diversity is very important. And as Verizon in particular looks at, you know, opportunities with ORAN, having an auction and making new spectrum available is a reason for a carrier to go out to their sites and upgrade their equipment. So they kind of work in tandem. As the technology evolves and as new spectrum comes – becomes available, we can take advantage of that and only touch the site once and not do multiple truck rolls. And so that, you know, really allows us to reduce costs and deploy much, much faster.
Mr. Johnson: Chris, anything you want to add?
Christopher Boyer: There we go. Just to build on what Patrick said, I think it’s very similar for us. Like, my view is that we’ve had a – you know, we’ve had a long discussion on Open RAN for going on four years now, I think, here in D.C. about: How do we diversify the telecom supply chain? How do we reinvigorate kind of U.S. manufacturing of telecommunications products? And I think, you know, in order to see the – in order for those – you know, those businesses to thrive, you know, they’re looking for deployments at scale.
You know, as the chair of the Open RAN Policy Coalition, Diane and I talk to a lot of companies all the time about this issue and so to see at scale deployments that really requires, you know, entities like the national carriers to ultimately deploy some of that equipment and I think the reality of the situation is that there’s only really two reasons that you go out and do a deployment. It’s either because you’re refreshing equipment due to lifecycle management reasons or you’re putting new capabilities online.
So you might be out there deploying new radios. That requires spectrum. So spectrum basically becomes kind of the reason why you would be out deploying equipment in the network, deploying new radios, which relates to, you know, when would you see some deployments of things like Open RAN at any kind of scale.
So the two things really do go hand in hand. We’re not going to just go out and change stuff and exchange equipment on the network for the sake of changing. There’s got to be a reason to do that and spectrum actually provides some of the reason to do that if there is new spectrum brought online.
That’s not to say it’s definitely going to be ORAN. I mean, those are business decisions that haven’t been made because they were planning for the future. But I think as more spectrum comes online there’s more likelihood that you would have a reason to be out touching the network and deploying additional equipment. So that’s why the two reasons kind of – kind of fit together.
Mr. Johnson: Just to follow up on that, with Open RAN in mind and the U.S. government’s push – I asked a similar question to Chairwoman Rosenworcel. Massive push from the U.S. government, $50 plus billion on CHIPS; much less money, but $1.5 billion – which is not chump change – for the Wireless Innovation Fund; and an enormous diplomatic and political effort to push, number one, trusted suppliers, number two, advances in Open RAN and supplier diversity. In your view – and honestly, the whole panel, but with your Open RAN Policy Coalition hats on – do you think we can get to where the U.S. government wants to get on trusted suppliers and diverse trusted suppliers without more spectrum that’s commercially licensed and harmonized with other countries?
Mr. Boyer: Well, it depends, right? But probably not in the U.S., right, because you’re going to have to have additional – again, there has to be a reason to go out and change things on the network, right? You have to deploy additional equipment and, as I said, there’s only two reasons to do that. Refresh or additional capabilities, which is spectrum.
So I think at the end of the day if you want to see large-scale deployments in the U.S. there’s got to be investments in ORAN. We have to – I mean, first off, we have to prove the technology end, right? There’s still – if you look at the comments that were filed at NTIA there’s still a lot of issues around Open RAN that need to be resolved.
The money that was put forth in the CHIPS Act and the Wireless Innovation Fund was really to work out a lot of those issues around integration between vendors. There’s still things that need to be done there. But let’s say hypothetically that those things get resolved over the next few years. You’re still not just going to deploy equipment for the sake of deployment. You’ve got to actually have a reason to do that and that’s where spectrum comes in.
So if you want to see scaled deployments there’s got to be additional spectrum put online into the pipeline so that the operators would have a reason to go out and deploy at scale.
Mr. Johnson: Diane, anything to add to that?
Ms. Rinaldo: Yes. So I’ll just say that we’ve been pretty consistent in our talking points that we believe that Open RAN is the wave of the future and that what we do with the coalition is that we advocate to policymakers on things that policymakers can be doing to help bring to scale and in a shorter time period and bringing more spectrum online is absolutely the top way to get deployments of Open RAN to happen at a quicker pace.
We were very forward thinking in May of 2020, our first policy paper. I think we had six points and top and center was additional spectrum. So there are a handful of things that are not going to change and this is one of them. Additional spectrum is going to allow for more Open RAN deployments, and it will get a lot of these small innovators that are doing amazing things in this space up and running. And it’s – and the timing is an imperative on this.
Mr. Johnson: And I’ll turn to Patrick and John for this next question. It digs in a little – you guys have mentioned this a little bit, but with the World Radio Conference, WRC, in mind, as I mentioned to the chairwoman, according to its public advocacy, China is supporting harmonization of spectrum bands for mid-band 5G. That is, the United States is supporting 80 percent less than China is, so China is going to Dubai with a pretty aggressive effort to align the world on its preference spectrum. Are you concerned that will create something of a spectrum island, as some people put it, that the United States will become a spectrum island and that globally harmonized bands, potentially harmonized with China’s domestic bands, will kind of carry the day with regard to where standard setting goes, where the suppliers – what the suppliers build for? Unpack that a little bit and tell us, on the technical side or the policy side, how that plays out.
Mr. Hunter: Well, first I would say, I appreciate and understand the perspective of the Department of Defense. They have some national security systems that are in that band and if you look at, you know, the state of play, if you will, on spectrum allocations, I can certainly understand why the U.S. government, in particular the DOD, would be concerned about how that plays out. But as was mentioned earlier, this should not be a zero-sum game. This should not be an us versus them. So I think what you have to do is – you know, there’s spectrum that’s out there that’s being advocated for that, you know, China’s going to put on the table, and then there’s a portion of that spectrum that’s also harmonized with existing 3 GHz bands, and I’m thinking band 77, band 79. So understanding that there’s spectrum out there that can be reallocated without disrupting national security operations is something that I believe we have to consider, but when we do that, we need to do it in a mindful manner that does not put the United States at a national security disadvantage vis-a-vis China and their military capabilities. So I certainly appreciate that, but I come from the point of view that we can and we must do both because economic security is equally as important as national security.
Mr. Welsh: You know, Clete, in your – I’m sorry – I was going to say, on your supply diversity question, it goes back to the same thing too, right, because I think John mentioned this earlier, is that if you’re going to build a product, you know, if you’re a vendor trying to build a solution, you want to build a solution that you can use around the world to achieve the type of scale that you want to achieve, and so if we don’t have harmonized spectrum bands coming out of WRC ’23, then your vendors are going to be stuck – put in a position of, do they build product for the U.S., do they build product for Europe, do they build different product for Asia, and how does that really work, and can they achieve the kind of scale that’s necessary? So the two – so to me, you know, both the availability of spectrum but also the harmonization of the bands is really critical to the supply chain because if I’m a – if the U.S. really wants to revitalize, like, U.S. manufacturing, our manufacturing base and telecom, then there has to be some understanding of what those bands are going to be so the vendors know where to go with that technology.
Mr. Johnson: At scale.
Mr. Welsh: At scale.
Mr. Johnson: Yeah.
Mr. Welsh: The only thing I think I would add is, you know, the only way to break the impasse where it looks like the wireless industry and the defense industry, for instance, butt heads is to develop those kind of partnerships and we’ve been working very closely with DOD and the CIO’s office, in particular within the secretary of defense’s office, on a number of bands in the past, so we collaborated very closely with them on AWOS-3, obviously with CBRS, and now we’re looking at the lower 3 gigahertz, and it’s really those kind of partnerships where we’re all sitting at the table and we can have honest, frank discussions where we realize that there’s a lot of commonality involved and we can create those win-win solutions.
Mr. Johnson: You think that’s possible? It’s not just – you know, I always think that we can – let’s all come together and work this out.
Mr. Welsh: Absolutely.
Mr. Johnson: That’s not a Pollyanna view of things?
Mr. Welsh: No, I think we have an existing framework already today. The Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act of 2003 is a fantastic way of creating this virtual cycle where, if there’s a band that’s identified for commercial use and there are federal incumbents in that band, a portion of the auction revenue can go to upgrade their systems. They have to still be comparable. But there’s this way that they get the money and they’re not impacted on the appropriation side. That’s worked brilliantly in the past. And we think we can extend that going forward. But we need auction authority back from Congress.
Mr. Johnson: Right.
So John mentioned a – I’ll just tease that out a little bit more. John mentioned an acronym, AMBIT. And if I get this right, it’s the American Mid-Band Innovation Team. Does that sound right?
Mr. Hunter: That’s close; not quite right, but I think it’s close.
Mr. Johnson: It’s one of those acronyms that the actual name behind it has probably been forgotten.
Mr. Hunter: Right.
Mr. Johnson: But very patriotic-sounding collaborative team. Can you talk how that’s worked a little bit?
Mr. Hunter: So this was the previous administration came forward and really worked with the Department of Defense, to NTIA and others, to really find some mid-band spectrum and figure out a way to reallocate that spectrum so the wireless carriers could operate in a manner that would not diminish the utility of what we’re so eager looking for.
And when you start putting draconian conditions on spectrum bands where you’ve got to, you know, reduce your power, minimize where you can deploy geographically, that creates – that creates, you know, a problem from a deployment perspective. And you’re also disenfranchises – disenfranchising many other users’ access to the spectrum. In some cases it’s urban and rural environments that are impacted.
So the AMBIT process really took a pragmatic approach of looking at – I believe it’s 34 geographic areas across the continental United States, identified the types of operations that were in those areas for those particular band, and crafted rules around how industry would gain access in those 34 areas.
Now, if you’re outside of the 34 areas, you’ve got full rein and full market access on a partial economic area. We call them PEAs. And that auction took place. We participated in it, as well as AT&T. And we were able to find some very good markets that we could deploy that spectrum. And we’re in the process of looking at that and deploying today.
So despite the challenges that we have with the AMBIT process and trying to coordinate that with the DOD, that’s a – it’s going to continue to be a work in progress. I would – taking it back to the work we did during the AWS-1, AWS-3 environment, where it took time to work with the Department of Defense, but over time we were able to get into areas where we once were foreclosed access.
So I think it’s going to involve a continued dialogue, maybe some technology evolution. But I think we need to start thinking of that type of aspect of how we could make the rest of lower 3 available. And it’s going take that type of thinking and rule-making to make that spectrum available, particularly when we start looking at what we’re trying to share with.
And I can’t stress that enough. You know, we’re being asked to share with hundreds of megawatts of power that come out of radar systems. To put that in perspective, we transmit in kilowatts. Kilowatts is what the wireless industry – so trying to protect DOD from our side is great, but only to find out that we’re getting, you know, massive interference in our direction is not going to do the process well at all. And that’s why I say we need to take a different approach in the PATHSS process and really figure out how we could look at both sides before moving forward.
Mr. Johnson: Talk a little bit about the PATHSS process.
Mr. Hunter: So the PATHSS process was something that was set up. It’s a partnership to advance holistic spectrum sharing in lower 3 gigahertz, from 3.1 to 3.45. And so, as part of that process, it’s only looking at protecting DOD assets. And so we’ve been going through that process. It’s been going – it’s been a great collaboration with DOD, the defense-industrial base, DOD partners, academia, as well as the wireless industry, and trying to find that way. But again, when you’re only looking at interference one way and not interference back toward the wireless industry, it creates a false narrative that somehow this is going to be able to work, when the reality is the interference and energy coming back to industry is not going to make a viable situation long-term.
Mr. Johnson: And, I think as you mentioned, your suggestion is partitioning?
Mr. Hunter: That’s right. You know, and I used the analogy the other day. I know everyone’s eager to make sharing work. We’re eager to make sharing work. But we shouldn’t take a square peg and try and pound it in a round hole when sharing will not work. So if you prove that sharing will not work from a cochannel perspective – and that’s what I’m talking about here. Where we’re using the spectrum on the same channel at the same time.
If you’ve proven that that cannot work, then what do we do with that situation? Again, I think you have to change the vernacular of what spectrum sharing means. I said we’re studying 3.1 to 3.45. You know, getting back to global harmonization. Band 77 starts at 3,300 megahertz. So why not offer up 3,300 to 3,450 to be part of Band 77, and then recognize that below 3,300 down to 3,100 should be reserved for DOD operations. Which, by the way, is not globally harmonized from a 3GPP perspective. So I think there’s a way to figure out how we can share this and move forward by protecting national security equities as well as industry interests.
Mr. Johnson: Do you all see – is anybody here optimistic about when the PATHSS report comes out in a few weeks about seeing opportunities like that? Do you – or – well, I’ll just leave it at that. Is anybody hopeful about possibilities that will be illuminated from that process?
Mr. Welsh: Sure. Well, I think as far as I know the report will be released on schedule in August. I don’t think there will be any surprises. One of the biggest challenges in the lower three gigahertz band is the airborne radar systems, which have, you know, an operating area or impact area of hundreds of kilometers. And it’s very difficult to share with those, if not impossible. So I think the report will really highlight that. And that may be the opportunity to approach this, you know, partitioning idea. Still making, you know, 3.1 to 3.3 available on a shared basis, but hopefully we can get, you know, the 150 megahertz there of spectrum for full power commercial use.
Mr. Johnson: How would that be done? Through – John mentioned technological evolution. Would it be through better efficiency in repacking, or how does that actually happen? How do you make more spectrum out of this finite resource?
Mr. Welsh: Sure. You know, a lot of – just as our technology evolves over time, so does DOD’s. They are already working on next-generation radar systems. So this could be an opportunity for them to accelerate that deployment, and also to have radar systems that are multiband, so that when they’re training here in the United States they can use frequencies that won’t impact commercial operations, knowing that when they deploy abroad they will have that full range of bands to choose from, depending on, you know, the theater that they’re operating in.
Mr. Hunter: Well, I would just add, they’re doing it today. So as we said, you know, these systems have the capability to tune throughout a very large swath of spectrum. So when we operate, we as a military operate in our allied countries – who, by the way, have already made a good amount of that spectrum available for 5G – the U.S. military has to, you know, find a way not to interfere with those overseas 5G networks. So they have the tuning capability already in place today in many of those systems to effectuate that.
So with respect to the report, I would say, you know, from the onset, this is – this is a one-sided study. This is studying industry impact into DOD operates to ensure that DOD does not lose any critical capability. It’s not looking at the other way. So what we’ve been trying to do is go out and be pragmatic, take empirical data measurements of some of these military systems, and then share that – introduce that into the process. And we’ve done a number of studies on this.
We’ve shared one report already with the – with the PATHSS members. And we have another one that it just came out. I just got a view of today. And we will be making that available as well to the group, to hopefully impart another perspective on how we can move forward to share a portion of that band.
Mr. Johnson: Would you put that in the category – and, Chris, I’d love to have your take on this too – would you put that in the category of getting past the zero-sum? Because I could – you know, I could hear – I could see DOD’s take on that would be, OK, well, you’re just trying to take our spectrum. How can we frame the – you know, the making more spectrum available to more uses as moving beyond zero-sum? Is there a way to square that circle?
Mr. Hunter: I think there is. And I think it’s, you know, looking at how we operate today as a military when we are in NATO countries, and other allied countries, and how we have to truncate some of our operations to accommodate that host nation. So we do that. And I think we can do that here in the U.S. as well.
But I would submit to DOD, if the technology is not in place today – which it isn’t. There’s no technology in place today that can prove that we can share with hundreds of megawatt radar systems and still coexist. If that is not available today, then we need to figure out a way how to make that work. And the way you do that is not cochannel sharing, but adjacent channel sharing. They get a portion of the spectrum, we get a smaller portion of the spectrum, and both entities continue to move on without any loss of critical impact.
Mr. Johnson: Chris, anything to add to that?
Mr. Boyer: I mean, I agree with everything that’s been said. I guess I would say that, just speaking for AT&T and, I think, for the whole industry, I mean, we certainly want to – don’t want to see DOD lose critical capabilities to secure the country, right? From a national security standpoint. No one is advocating that they should lose functionality. The question, ultimately, is how do balance out the needs of DOD with the needs of the industry? And I think from an industry perspective, you know, we’re seeing that wireless networks are continuing to grow. Everybody’s using wireless. The capacity that’s being put over the networks is growing infinitely.
And so the need for more spectrum is pretty glaring. And so I guess my biggest concern with the report is that we can – is that – and not to be overly pessimistic – but that we continue to kind of admire the problem but don’t actually move forward. And so, you know, we haven’t talked about this on the panel, but in order to bring new spectrum online it’s going to take a long time. It’s going to take a number of years to kind of determine what those bands are, to study the bands, to put them through the – you know, the FCC auction authority has to be renewed. You have to study the band. NTIA has to come out with how they’re going to – they’re going to move that forward.
So going from where we are now, to issuing a report, to actually getting to a point where the new spectrum comes online and there’s an auction is going to take a number of years, right? So the longer we continue to kind of admire the problem and do more reports, the longer it’s going to take to actually get something to the market. So the optimistic view would be that we can have something come out of the PATHSS process that can move us forward, and move the industry forward, and move DOD forward.
But I think it’s going to take some leadership both from the administration and on the industry side to try to square both of those issues and try to – and move us beyond just talking about this issue and to a place where something actually happens.
Mr. Johnson: So, Diane, on a – to just make this a practical policymaking discussion, you’ve headed up NTIA, after having spent a lot of time in a SCIF on the House Intelligence Committee. And you know what it’s like to sit – to be the one person in government in a room, often a SCIF, at a National Security Council staff meeting, and you’re surrounded with a whole bunch of three-letter agency – representatives from three-letter agencies, many in uniform. I see Michael Daniel out in the audience, was in rooms like this with him quite a bit.
Tell the audience what it’s like when you’re talking about an issue that’s at the – that straddles the commercial and traditional security worlds, and how those discussions play out. Is it possible in this environment to – you know, to create a win-win situation? Or are the commercial interests going to be seen as just that, commercial interests subordinate to national security? Just paint a picture for how that works inside government.
Ms. Rinaldo: Sure. And I would say that – so, yeah, my time in the administration, I would say that Commerce was not seen as a top agency around the table. That we were probably back benched. I remember when I first joined the administration, I asked a question and someone asked: Who are you? They didn’t realize I had worked for the House Intelligence Committee, maybe I was a little bit more knowledgeable on some of the issues than – (laughs) – than a regular of the mill Commerce person. (Laughs.)
But I think, you know, a couple of things to kind of point out is education of leadership; that maybe at a staff level people are very knowledgeable, in the weeds on the issues, but when you kind of go up higher in the ranks spectrum’s lost on officials. So that was quite often a big breakdown in the conversations that we had was just lack of education, lack of understanding. And then when you’re hearing drastic conversations about – right, you got planes falling out of the sky and, you know, this is such that people just kind of stop. They don’t want to do anything because they don’t want to be the one on – to make the decision and have some catastrophe happen, right? So that’s been a big issue, I think, is just the lack of education.
I also think NTIA is in the scheme of things a sub agency, which if you ever worked in government titles matter. Positions matter. If you go around the world the department of communications is always a top tier organization. But NTIA is a sub agency and so when you’re sitting around a table and you’re an assistant secretary that doesn’t help matters, right? People are not going to listen to you. They’ll get somebody else higher up in their organization to kind of – you know, to have their secretary call your secretary and, again, right, stalemate.
So I think there are a lot of little things that can happen to change not only the tone of the conversation but the process, right? This is often been something I’ve lamented on; is the process broken, or are people not following the process? I would probably say both.
But again, like – and I often say this, too, Clete, so it’s not just you. Not to sound Pollyannaish, but I think that there is a sweet spot. And we have to figure out a way how we come together and find that sweet spot because it is imperative to the leadership of the United States.
Mr. Johnson: One of the lines that we have in one of our papers is that if – consider a world in which there’s a Huawei or a TikTok equivalent in China and a China-based national champion in every sector of the economy, which I think is certainly a distinct possibility if China leads the 5G economy in the coming decades.
Our take is that there’s no weapon system or technology ban or rip and replace or mitigation strategy that could secure U.S. interest in that setting. Do you think that that statement is alarmist or overstated or is that what we’re looking at in a future where China uses spectrum – the spectrum advantage to secure a market advantage in the supply chain?
Ms. Rinaldo: So I will say that I’ve recently become aware that China is now aiming to acquire global spectrum assets, that Huawei has been the game for a very long time and through the United States and allied countries that we’ve done – made good work in discussing the security imperative of moving with a foreign adversary in your network. So now they’re moving to acquire spectrum. And we need to look at that game, and, again, right, we need to get in an uncomfortable place in this conversation, because only then will we come together in order to figure out how to solve some of these problems.
Mr. Boyer: I mean, I think we’ve already seen some of that happen, right, because if you look at, like, China’s Belt and Road Initiative they’ve been going around and making a lot of, you know, offers that people can’t refuse in certain parts of the world, right? So they get their equipment deployed and gain access to critical minerals and other things in those countries and so there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t try the same tactics when it comes to spectrum assets. It would make sense for them to move in that direction.
Now, whether they’re going to lead on 5G or 6G or those types of things, I don’t know. But the best way to prevent that from happening is to have – you know, proactively have a strategy of our own and I think that’s why when we were talking earlier on the panel about things like WRC 23 and other things that are coming up those are opportunities for the U.S. to kind of continue to show the leadership.
I think, Chairwoman Rosenworcel, you were talking about this, the leadership that we’ve shown in the past. If we can continue to show that type of leadership proactively in things like WRC 23 that’s our best opportunity to shape it to make sure that outcome doesn’t happen.
Mr. Johnson: Yeah. Anything to add to that, gentlemen?
Mr. Welsh: Well, I think, you know, domestically this administration is working very diligently on developing a national spectrum strategy that they plan to release later this year and follow it up with an implementation plan.
So the good news is that the work is already underway. NTIA is very busy, you know, meeting with federal agencies on a daily basis to try to come up with this strategy and then, you know, once we do that there has to be some sort of pipeline for spectrum, you know, going forward. And so we would hope that, you know, once the strategy is released we can develop a pipeline bill in Congress that, you know, identifies these bands and sets a timetable so that, you know, the industry can plan ahead and develop the roadmap to deploy these new bands and technologies. So I’m optimistic about that.
Mr. Johnson: Go ahead, John.
Mr. Hunter: Well, we’ve got to get auction authority restored.
Mr. Johnson: (Laughs.) Absolutely. I think that’s a – it’s something that’s implicit, but we need to make explicit. None of this happens without the FCC being able to auction more spectrum.
So I just want to tease on that a little bit more, Patrick. A skeptic might say, look, you guys – you know, the carriers have several more years to digest the spectrum that you’ve already – you’re already deploying, and we’re not even talking about near term. We’re talking about three to five years from now for whatever’s next. Why do you need a pipeline now? And I think that’s a technical and business question that’s certainly above my capability. So I’d like to hear, from your perspective, about the spectrum planning process and what a company needs to deploy three to five years from now. Why do you need spectrum now?
Mr. Welsh: Well, it takes several years to make new bands available. So we have to start early and develop this roadmap and a timetable. You know, I think back to the most recent spectrum auction. In a perfect world, we would have – the government would have made C-band available before millimeter wave; the idea being that, you know, a coverage layer like C-band provides much broader coverage than higher frequencies. But it’s not a perfect world, so we made the best out of that.
That’s why it’s so important to focus on mid-band now for 6G, because that’s where the growth is going to be. And then we can supplement it later with higher-band frequencies. But it really – you know, as the chairwoman said, mid-band is the sweet spot and we need to focus on –
Mr. Johnson: What’s the timeframe for that? You said where the future is going to be. Are we talking about 20 years from now, three years from now? What’s the ballpark, what you would say?
Mr. Welsh: Well, you know, I think our network team would say we have a good mix of spectrum assets now. But, you know, three to five years from now we will start approaching spectrum exhaust. And, you know, we’re already deploying technology that pushes up, you know, to the boundaries of Shannon’s Law of how much information we can actually carry on the channel.
We’re already, you know, splitting cell sites and using small cells. We’re deploying, you know, millimeter-wave spectrum in high-traffic areas like, you know, stadiums and arenas, dense urban areas. But we will need to refresh that pipeline. And, you know, honestly, having legislation that codifies that, you know, nothing, you know, focuses the mind like a deadline. And so having the deadlines in law really does help lubricate the process and get, you know, all the folks on the same page towards working for that.
Mr. Johnson: Chris? John?
Mr. Hunter: No, I would just say that it’s also about the technology, right? So with 4G, you know – well, 5G, we’re doing 50-megahertz channels. 6G, we’re going to be talking about 100-megahertz channels. So the next evolution of technology requires more bandwidth. And so we have to keep that in mind as well.
Another thing I would add would be the use cases. Use cases drive a lot of the spectrum utilization; so the things that the consumers are demanding and how we can deploy that, mobile-edge computing, some of the automation aspects, use cases that the chairwoman talked about. So every next generation is going to demand more spectrum.
I think it’s also important to understand that, from history, almost every generation, from 1G to 2G to 3G to 4G, it’s about a 10-year increment on average. But I think what you’re seeing here is we’re going to see an advance of 6G more so than what we saw from going from 4G to 5G. And I think we’re starting to see that.
To put that in perspective, we’re probably about three years into our 5G deployments. So if 6G is going to advance and require 100-megahertz channels, and a myriad of use cases are going to come along with it, the time to start planning for more spectrum is now. And once you deploy that spectrum, then you could start looking at legacy bands on how to supplement that going forward.
Mr. Johnson: Got it.
Chris, anything to add on to that pipeline? No?
Mr. Boyer: Not really. I kind of spoke to it earlier. I just – it takes a number of years in order to bring new spectrum online, not only in terms of government authorities and then the study in the spectrum and making it available and auctioning it off to industry. You also have to have product built to meet some spectrum requirements that we can actually deploy it. So it takes time for everyone in the industry to kind of coalesce around making new spectrum available.
And so if you look at – historically, at some of the auctions that we’ve seen, you know, it takes several years for all those things to kind of come together. So if we are thinking that we’re going to need additional spectrum three to five years from now, then understanding what that spectrum’s going to be and what bands are going to be made available, it is critical to do that now so that we can plan for the future.
Mr. Johnson: I want to leave – we have about five minutes left. I want to leave a couple minutes if there are any burning questions from the audience. But I just wanted to ask one final question to the group. John mentioned technological evolution. Are there any particular – not looking for – I think our moonshot here is how do we get out of the zero-sum game? That’s the moonshot we’re looking at. But apart from that, you can make a lot of progress with marginal advances.
So can you talk about what do we mean? The chairwoman mentioned a couple of things. She mentioned this interesting idea about building receiver efficiency into federal procurement. Are there any other technological evolutions that are – and if you’ve got a moonshot, please lay it out there – but that you think would actually create – would allow us to take – to make more spectrum out of what we have now?
Mr. Hunter: There’s one provision in the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, I think on the House side, that talks about making money available to study more dynamic spectrum technologies. And I think that’s critically important. If we’re ever going to advance this idea and this notion of sharing, as I said, the things that we’re talking about today in lower three gigahertz, those sharing mechanisms do not exist today. So it’s critically important that not only DOD get the resources that they need to really advance spectrum sharing for their own internal use, but also partner with industry to figure out how we can come together and come up with a sharing regime going forward that will work.
It will advance this, you know, vision down the road of having the ability to dynamically share technologically without, you know, causing harmful interference to each other’s operations. So that’s a ways off. I was encouraged by the provision in the NDAA, and hopefully that’ll get passed. And if we can make that happen, there’s a spot I think you could look forward, and say that would be progress. And we, as industry, should embrace that.
Mr. Johnson: Patrick, Diane, Chris, any –
Mr. Welsh: Maybe incrementally it can be things like updating the way the federal government manages spectrum. You know, the government master file is decades old. It’s not automated. You know, updating that and giving them some modern capabilities would really facilitate it. It’s not a moonshot. It’s incremental. But it’s very important. As John said, we don’t have the policies in place for a lot of the dynamic spectrum sharing ideas. And we need to fix that.
Ms. Rinaldo: I think with AI coming online and sensing capabilities, we talk about receivers and receivership standards, possibly start shrinking guard bands, allowing for more spectrum. And, again, always put in a plug for elevating NTIA.
Mr. Johnson: Chris, any thoughts?
Mr. Boyer: Don’t call it a moonshot. I dealt with that in cybersecurity. (Laughter.)
Mr. Johnson: Exactly.
Mr. Boyer: But, no, I mean, I think you’re right, in the sense that there are a lot of technology solutions being discussed in the PATHSS process. I think bringing some of that to reality and seeing if some of these solutions actually work would help move this issue forward. I think that’s something that has to be done. But, you know, I wouldn’t call it a moonshot, though. (Laughter.)
Mr. Johnson: OK, right, right, right. Yeah, to be clear, I was – I’m suggesting that the moonshot would be actually getting past this zero-sum game. I think we’re looking for real, but possibly incremental, approaches.
So I think we’ll close with this. This is a – I love this question. Where has industry and government collaboration been successful on spectrum issues so far? Let’s close with that. Let’s give a positive story to lean on.
Mr. Hunter: I would say a sea shift, you know, that was things that changed really was the working group process that was established during the AWS-3 effort in around the 2013-2015 timeframe. And that was an opportunity for industry and government to come together and find out ways how we were able to share that spectrum, protect DOD equities, at the same time allow industry wholesome access to the band on a – on a national scale. I thought that process worked very well. At the time, that was the highest-grossed auction in U.S. history; I believe it was $43 billion that it netted for the Treasury.
So we do have examples of how sharing can work. And the reason that was able to work was because of the systems that were in the band. Those systems in the band are not hundreds of megawatts systems of what DOD is operating. There are much more tactical systems at a lower power scale that we were able to facilitate a sharing regime that worked well for everyone involved. So we do have past precedent on this, and I think we just need to – it’s a very good question because I think you need to take what worked and figure out how to take what worked and move that forward, despite some of the technological challenges that we’re facing going forward.
Mr. Welsh: And the only thing I’d add to that is, the only way we can solve this is by partnering with the federal agencies, understanding their systems needs and then us sharing our system needs. And a great example of this was AWOS-3 where we were able to share, you know, frequencies by essentially blanking our resource blocks on a 10-megahertz channel because one of the systems that DOD was operating in was only, I think, 1 or 1.5 megahertz wide, so we could actually blank the resource blocks on our end and allow them to continue to operate. We wouldn’t have gotten there unless we were sitting at the table having these, you know, frank and honest discussions. And I think there’s a real opportunity to build off that.
Mr. Johnson: Right.
Mr. Boyer: I don’t have anything to add specifically to spectrum, but I’ll just say, on national security issues, we have a long history of working with government on national security. I mean, in my cybersecurity hat, if I put that hat on, you know, I’ve been in numerous discussions with – on the high side and meetings with the government about a variety of security issues and how can we deal with that. We’ve had the same thing happen on just broader national security, even beyond cyber, and so our industry has a long history of working with government on these types of issues. And so I have no reason to believe it would be any different in this case. We ought to be able to sit down with DOD, you know, better understand what their concerns are, what the industry’s concerns are and work together towards some sort of solution. Again, that might be Pollyannaish to some degree, but we’ve done it in other areas, we have a history of doing that for over 50 years, so I don’t see why we can’t solve those problems on this particular subject as well.
Mr. Johnson: Diane?
Ms. Rinaldo: And I will just close saying U.S. Congress understood that they were not, nor the U.S. government was not in the business of running networks and so they contracted with AT&T to run FirstNet, and I think that they should look at further opportunities with U.S. carriers, others, to help kind of collaborate and coexist more than just seeing it as, you know, we’ll do our thing and you do your thing. It’s where the divide sometimes falls.
Mr. Johnson: Well, thank you all. This is a very positive way to close this out, and with that collaboration in mind, just want to – harken back to the history of we won World War II but largely because the industrial capabilities collaborated with the military capabilities. Same thing happened in different ways in the Cold War era. I think that our strength is not just commercial strength or military intelligence capabilities, it’s the unique combination of those two. So that’s what we’re going to try to do in these papers is – with the paper coming out in the next couple weeks, laying out some concrete recommendations about how to do that. How do we play to our strengths – plural – commercial and defense?
Thank you all for being here.
Thanks again to CSIS for hosting this great discussion, and look forward to continuing it. Thanks.