The U.S. Navy has taken a large step towards opening military frequencies for greater commercial use with a recent experiment that evaluated whether or not military and commercial devices can successfully share the same frequency without interference.
In a recent test off the coast of Virginia’s eastern shore, the Navy activated an AN/SPY1—a powerful naval radar system that normally scans for incoming missiles and bombers—while visiting academic and corporate researchers simultaneously turned on portable wireless transmitters and tuned them to the same frequency to evaluate the effects, the MIT Technology Review reported Sunday.
“We will be running an LTE signal and understanding the impact of radar on that LTE signal,” researcher Jeff Reed, director of the wireless research center at Virginia Technical Institute, told the Review before the experiment. “Hopefully, no missile will be fired as part of the test.”
If deemed successful, the test could be hailed as the first step in the next phase of spectrum sharing that could help alleviate wireless network congestion and enable certain institutions like hospitals, utilities and law-enforcement agencies to set up 4G LTE networks without relying on major carriers. Currently, says the Review, military frequencies cover 60 percent of the American population, where the most wireless congestion is now experienced.
“It’s a big deal,” Vanu Bose, CEO of Vanu, a Cambridge, Mass. Company that manufactures custom wireless communications systems, told the Review. “The majority of federal spectrum use is for radars of one kind or another, but many of these systems are used sparingly.”
While the concept is considered similar to the approach of using “white spaces”—in which TV spectrum can be borrowed for use at certain times and in certain places to provide wireless services—borrowing military spectrum is slightly more complicated, says the Review, because unlike TV stations, Navy ships and radar systems are mobile—and their locations are potentially classified. However, Peter Stanforth, chief technology officer of Spectrum Bridge, believes there are methods of obscuring necessary information.
“If it is shared, I can’t be sure who is using it,” he said.
The next step in the process is for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to formally define a rule, a process that could take at least a year.