Dynamic Spectrum Sharing Will Propel the U.S. Through 5G and Beyond

In the 20th century, the United States pioneered the connectivity revolution, and it remains the global leader in wireless technology thanks to government and industry working together to play to America’s strengths – research and development, innovation, and market competition. In order to keep it that way in the 21st century, we have to rely on those same strengths as we look toward the technologies of tomorrow. This is why making wise decisions on how the U.S. manages its finite mid-band spectrum is critical to driving us through 5G and beyond.

The biggest legacy wireless carriers in the U.S. support a high-power, exclusively licensed approach to mid-band spectrum under the guise of keeping pace with China in 5G deployment. However, while it’s true that China has opened the 3.3-3.4 GHz band for two of their carriers, they’ve limited it to low-power, indoor use to protect incumbent uses by the Chinese government. Given that contradiction, the insistence of big legacy wireless carriers on high-power, exclusive licensing – or no commercial access at all – is much easier to understand as a ploy to lock out competitive providers from offering consumer 5G services. 

Significantly (and perhaps not surprisingly), the exclusive licensing, high-powered approach to the lower 3 GHz band would harm U.S. national security and military needs, as clearly reflected in the recently released EMBRSS report, the culmination of a comprehensive multi-year, multi-stakeholder process that included the Department of Defense, National Telecommunications and Information Administrations, and industry leaders. Sacrificing military readiness, potentially for decades, in order for U.S. cellular carriers to siphon and dominate scarce spectrum resources and continue their disappointing deployment of 5G infrastructure is not in the nation’s best interest.

Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) is the better path forward. DSS will achieve the right balance of prosperity, security, innovation, and competition. Greater investment in this innovative technology with proven, wide-ranging use cases will help the U.S. maximize a limited but essential resource. This is particularly relevant since the federal government acknowledged there is no more greenfield spectrum available for commercial or federal use.

We’ve seen how successful DSS regimes like the Citizens’ Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) have been, and the technology is primed to continue making strides toward greater reliability for both federal and commercial users. Local, shared licensing at power levels similar to CBRS can be deployed in other spectrum bands, including the lower 3 GHz, not only to accelerate U.S. 5G deployment, but also to open doors to innovations beyond 5G, supporting industries from manufacturing and educational services to agriculture and tourism, all while meeting our nation’s defense and security needs.

Real innovation requires future-proof thinking and technologies. The old ways of doing things – like giving a single wireless carrier exclusive access to the most valuable spectrum – will not get us where we need to go. DSS, deployed alongside an appropriately balanced mix of unlicensed and licensed spectrum, will pave the way for more innovation, more diverse use cases, and greater competition in the marketplace, unlocking our nation’s full wireless potential for decades to come.