With demand for spectrum escalating rapidly and regulators struggling to free up enough of it for everyone, the most practical solution may be to share it. Kalpak Gude, president of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA), tells Disruptive.Asia that dynamic spectrum sharing is the only practical way to ensure everyone gets what they want, and the only real barrier is legacy mindsets about spectrum ownership.
Disruptive.Asia: First, the basics: how are you enabling dynamic spectrum sharing?
Kalpak Gude: The best way to think about dynamic spectrum is the ability to share spectrum in a very aggressive manner using databases, location identification and sensing technology collectively. You can use that to do what the FCC did, which was to create a dynamic license tier, where a licensee will be guaranteed, say, 10 MHz, but they won’t be guaranteed that 10 MHz in the same MHz all the time. They will also be moved around opportunistically based on availability. So an incumbent who has rights to the spectrum gets protected first. Under that is a licensed tier and an unlicensed tier.
Now, it could be two tiers instead of three – you don’t really need a licensed tier, because it’s the unlicensed tier that drives the spectrum utilization potential in a way that takes it leaps and bounds above what is done otherwise. We see that with unlicensed spectrum in other parts of the world – in the Wi-Fi bands, the intensity of usage is unparalleled. That capability is what the FCC has adopted for the 3.5 GHz band, but that shows the power of dynamic sharing in other bands.
And the incumbents are happy with this idea?
Well, the US Department of Defense backs this arrangement, which should tell you something, because for years they fought to preserve their spectrum and keep everyone else away from it for obvious reasons. But they back this dynamic approach because they know it works and they felt this was the best way to protect their access to that spectrum. That’s what makes dynamic spectrum really different.
The great things about it is, given the technology has the ability to protect incumbents, we can finally get away from these spectrum battles that we’ve dealt with for the last 20 years. Incumbents can share the spectrum without giving up substantial rights. That creates an opportunity to move much faster into deploying these types of services, expanding the amount of available spectrum and bandwidth, I think that is really the direction of spectrum management going forward.
Which bands in particular are you looking at to implement this?
When the DSA was founded, we were looking initially at TV white space, because the government was already looking at it and they thought they could move it faster. That’s had some success, but for a variety of reasons, it’s been slower than hoped for. But we still believe in the technology, and that it will be successful. But we want to expand that focus to other bands, which for now would be 3.5-3.7 GHz, where the current rules are, and extending those rules to 3.7-4.2 GHz.
Would that be related to the battle between the satellite sector and the mobile industry over extended C-band?
Yes. I used to be in the satellite industry, and I used to be very involved in protecting the C-band for satellites. The 3.7-4.2 portion of the band is essentially the core of C-band that all of the platforms were built for. Then IMT came in and said, “We want to share that band,” but sharing was never sharing. Sharing was, at a minimum, “Give us half of yours and get out, or give us all of yours and we’ll grandfather whatever you have.” And of course it leads to the kind of intractable battle over spectrum that we’re now 15 years in and there’s only been incremental movement in the lower portion of the C-band for IMT. It polarized the world, because there are parts of the world where satellite operations in that portion of the band were not just for video distribution, but key point-to-point link communications as well. It became a zero-sum game: I win, you lose. That led to nothing.
I really believe a dynamic sharing scenario much like for DOD changes the equation. If they are the incumbent in the band and their services are protected, a tremendous amount of use can be created for terrestrial systems using lower power than what was tried by the IMT community earlier, but also in a dynamic fashion. I’ll add too that the 3GPP has already created standards for that band, so it’s already ready to be used for LTE or LTE-U kinds of services.
What other bands are ripe for dynamic sharing?
We’re interested in the 5-GHz band for Wi-Fi. We’re also interested in creating sharing opportunities in the satellite uplink band of 6 GHz – still C-band but a 6-GHz uplink, which we think is frankly even easier to share because there tends to be even fewer uplink sites. There’s an opportunity there to create up to an extra 500 MHz of bandwidth for Wi-Fi operations. The reality is Wi-Fi is desperately in need of capacity expansion. Wi-Fi is the on-ramp to the internet for most of us most of the time. With all that growing demand, something has to be done in that area. And doing it in a dynamic way is the only way to accomplish that because there are existing users in the 6 GHz band – creating co-existence with them will be very important. We’re also looking at millimeter-wave bands, either 37 GHz, going all the way up to 60 GHz.
How big of a barrier is legacy mindset? Operators typically want to own spectrum, regulators want to sell lots of licenses to make money. What’s their response when you propose dynamic sharing?
Auctioning spectrum when it’s clean – clearly there’s value in it. But the higher you go up in spectrum, particularly in much of the mid-band spectrum we’re talking about, it is frankly hard to find or create clean spectrum to auction. There are incumbents sitting on it, they’ve invested billions of dollars in it and there are people relying on those existing services. And as we just talked about with satellite, it’s complicated and cumbersome and takes a long time to negotiate with the incumbents. So the question for governments in some cases is that it’s not always an easy choice between auctioning vs not, it’s a question of dynamic sharing or status quo or some sort of compromise that diminishes auction value.
But are regulators receptive to that?
We’re still in the early phases of truly pushing that argument. The FCC has been receptive to it. In other countries … well, the FCC tends to be a leader for other regulators who look at what they’ve done. My challenge is to encourage this model to be propagated elsewhere. Once it’s been shown to work in the US, we think it will gain a lot of traction. We have done 20 or 30 experimental projects around the world that different members have put together demonstrating how it would work, and in every case, it’s worked incredibly well.
Any prospects here in Asia-Pacific?
I won’t say what band, but there is a lot of interest in this in India, because India is inherently complicated. I believe Indonesia is also on our list of markets to look at – Pakistan is another. Some of our members have had conversations with the governments there and they seem to be interested.