Is Shared Spectrum the Wireless Solution?
Gary Parr | November 30, 2023
Better spectrum management can unlock the power of IoT.
By Dr. Armando Montalvo, Digital Global Systems
From manufacturing and smart warehouses to smart cities and homes, Internet of Things (IoT) advancements require faster and more economical wireless connectivity with greater range, encryption, scalability, and reliability to automate new possibilities. This need will continue to increase as future developments move toward real-time automation to manage these networks. Suffice it to say that IoT will unlock groundbreaking applications capable of accelerating business operations, innovation, and subsequent economic growth.
This means you will need to dynamically apply real-time RF measurements to gauge the needs and demands of wireless devices and make or program real-time adjustments to ensure their best performance. It also means having the ability to increase battery life for wireless sensors and encourage adoption with improved reliability and low-cost, low-risk investments.
Some use cases are not as urgent but the quality of small data being shared is critical. You can have reduced quality on a video call and be fine, but mission-critical data must be delivered 100% of the time with 100% accuracy and with very low latency. Being able to program around factors such as these delivers greater reliability for a network while reducing the impact on sensors (battery lives), minimizing needless network noise, and increasing performance for a broader user base.
The question isn’t if this will happen but rather if it will happen fast enough in the United States, as our airwaves have been used for more than a century and face heavier demands compared to emerging markets where nations often have less red tape and can quickly build out networks focused on future needs.
How about WiFi?
It’s less expensive and more practical to go wireless when possible, and some installations must be wireless. Further, it’s desirable to connect more IoT devices with minimal network hardware. Hospitals, for example, don’t want to squeeze more wires and technical baggage into their buildings. Low-power, wireless IoT is fast, cheap, and practical for several use cases, especially when the network is optimized for it. Why not go WiFi?
Currently, there are limitations with WiFi’s reach, scale, and security, including hard limits. WiFi maxes at 200 to 300 ft. (indoor/outdoor) and is reduced by walls and barriers. Its security isn’t built-in and the technology is difficult to scale for massive device deployments. Unlicensed and lightly licensed spectra, such as CBRS, can reach miles, do not require line of sight, can scale capacity to handle many more devices, and have encryption built in. For business and industrial applications, there is a clear winner when you are doing more than browsing the internet.
Shared spectrum, as recommended by the OnGo Alliance, Beaverton, OR (ongoalliance.org) has greater reach (as far as a couple of miles or so per antenna), is secure, can handle many more devices, and the U.S. government is looking at expanding it further. With dynamic RF monitoring and awareness, expected to be included in this next round of shared wireless, there’s nothing comparable. While we aren’t there yet, the technology already exists to make it happen.
Growth and advancement of shared spectrum with dynamic RF awareness, monitoring, and management will help resolve low-latency, packet-loss issues. As a result, if there is a jump in wireless demand your private wireless network can respond to the demand and adjust to improve performance or overall network management can ensure critical applications will not be affected.
It will enable the necessary high reliability for mission-critical systems and the wireless reach and scale to affordably support large installations in the field while having access to live data to better understand and adjust in the moment. It will also allow organizations to manage installations much more easily, affordably, and quickly without the heavy cost and management issues that a wired model would require. Shared spectrum is built to be secure from the start, ready for public and institutional applications, and designed for future needs.
A major issue we see right now is the limited capability to differentiate between wireless devices, as well as dated wireless technologies limiting customizable wireless models. When real-time RF awareness and monitoring are applied, a wireless network will respond immediately to demands as they arise, maximize the use of spectrum in every moment for better services, and customize and prioritize management of certain devices based on data types and demands, thereby improving performance and reducing inefficiencies.
Over the past decade, the United States developed CBRS shared spectrum with the Navy’s proprietary bands, offering much greater power and reach than WiFi. CBRS continues to generate ongoing interest and support for growth and innovation. Ideally, this network would add real-time optimization to ensure the network is used appropriately, based on immediate changes to network demands. The NTIA and FCC have recently received recommendations for and against growing the shared model along the lines of the shared CBRS network. There are strong expectations we will see plans soon to further expand and improve shared bands to support industry demands. The White House’s recently released National Spectrum Strategy (NSS) makes the case for shared spectrum as the most viable path forward for future spectrum auctions.
As the FCC considers new allocations for shared spectrum, it must consider how pending spectrum policy decisions affect future U.S. technological innovation. These are not just revenue generators but are the utilization of limited resources that can help or hurt wireless applications for many industries, depending on how they are applied. Data is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. The slower it moves, the less money it makes, and the more competing nations compete. EP
Dr. Armando Montalvo, Chief Technology Officer for Digital Global Systems, Tysons, VA (digitalglobalsystems.com), has held senior management positions at leading research and defense companies including Bell Labs, Hughes Space and Communication, and Alcatel.