As wireless frequencies become increasingly clogged from more people chatting with friends, texting, and hopping on apps, the US government has been thinking of ways to open up the airwaves. One such method could be allowing the public to use frequencies typically assigned to military radars.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Monday that is he pushing forward an idea to open up Defense Department spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band -- calling it an "innovation band." He said this frequency-sharing plan could be a reality within the next 18 months.
"We are now in the midst of the fourth great network revolution -- the wireless connectivity of miniature computing devices," Wheeler said in a talk he gave at the Brookings Institution on Monday. "In the preceding three revolutions -- the printing press, steam railroad, and magnetic telegraph -- we can view circumstances similar to the challenges we face today."
Wheeler emphasized the need to evolve the country's spectrum policy and modernize its networks. Frequency-sharing makes sense, he said, because unlicensed spectrum has always allowed for sharing of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other applications.
"While mobile connectivity has already revolutionized our world in multiple ways, the fact of the matter is we're just getting warmed up," Wheeler said. "Think about the iPhone and Android phones, which have given more than 60 percent of Americans more computing power in their pocket than the module that put a man on the moon. They didn't even exist when Barack Obama began running for President."
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (PDF), the 3.5 GHz band that is used by the military is primarily for Navy shipboard radar use, as well as tracking of airborne objects and air traffic control systems. Wheeler said that it's possible for the Defense Department to share this spectrum with civilians by "proceeding responsibly."
"To seize those new opportunities -- for job creation, health care, education, energy -- entrepreneurs will have to update the way they do business, and the FCC has to update the way we manage and allocate spectrum."