2017: The year to adopt spectrum sharing

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The annual Consumer Technology Association Conference held in Las Vegas this month was all about the Internet of Things. From robotics connected to the cloud to new, innovative smart home technologies and everything in between, the Internet of Things is already a trending topic of 2017.

{mosads}Arguably even more important than the consumer IoT is the emerging industrial IoT – the prospect that digital, connected devices will improve everything from our roadways to our emergency response to our national security.


However, these remarkable new technologies will only be deployed if we make it a national priority to invest in technologies to build the high-speed network they will require. Just as a train can’t run without tracks, IoT can’t run without a modern digital infrastructure.  As we look to the new administration and Congress, there are clear and immediate steps the government and the private sector can take to enhance the IoT for everyone – from children playing with their holiday gifts to senior citizens whose quality of life can be dramatically improved with new technologies that keep them safe, mobile, and connected to the world.

One such opportunity currently exists in an unexpected place: the satellite networks that gather weather data across America. Currently, these satellites transmit data to a small number of users via federally-managed spectrum. While weather data is critical to America’s safety and security, this data can continue to be transmitted while also repurposing other spectrum for the build-out of a next-generation 5G wireless network. For some time, the Federal Communications Commission has been considering whether to support “spectrum sharing” of the 1675-1680 MHz band for this very purpose.

In order for this spectrum-sharing concept to make sense, it will be critical to ensure that both uses – weather data transmission and 5G deployment – can coexist. One promising solution is to build a cloud-based network that would transmit the raw weather data from satellites directly to any Internet-connected device, without the end user requiring another satellite to receive it. 

There is a limited supply of spectrum.  Therefore, if we are serious about making 5G and the IoT a national priority, we must utilize it as efficiently as possible.  Sharing this precious resource is an obvious path forward. While the consumer use cases of 5G are great (providing much faster app downloads and better cellphone coverage), what’s really exciting is how profoundly it can impact the safety and quality of life for some of our most vulnerable.

For the rapidly growing older adult population and active baby boomer retirees, the IoT, enabled by 5G networks, will have a profound impact. Older individuals are adopting new technologies at encouraging rates, whether it’s in home health monitoring, car-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft that help them arrive safely from point A to B, or even driverless cars in the future; advanced mobility as the popular, heartwarming Cox Communications commercial envisions; or the ability of air ambulances to transmit real time patient updates en route to a hospital.

The benefits we can see today are compelling, but what is even more exciting are the innovations we can’t yet imagine. Just as ignoring crumbling roads can slow down the pace of commerce, we need to continue to invest in America’s wireless networks to keep fueling our digital infrastructure. An outdated wireless network could cripple America’s economic future. It’s time for the FCC to support spectrum sharing to help build a next-generation 5G network to benefit Americans from all regions and of all ages.  

Debra Berlyn is the president of Consumer Policy Solutions, a firm centered on developing public policies addressing the interests of consumers and the marketplace, and as executive director of the group’s Project to Get Older Adults onLine.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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