The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration is looking for bright ideas about where the next big chunk of radiofrequency spectrum will come from.

Scott Bicheno

March 16, 2023

4 Min Read
US begins search for 1,500 MHz more of ‘spectrum pipeline’

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration is looking for bright ideas about where the next big chunk of radiofrequency spectrum will come from.

At this early stage, the NTIA is positioning the exercise as a National Spectrum Strategy Request for Comment. In other words, it’s inviting anyone with an interest in the matter to suggest where some or all of this swathe of spectrum is going to come from. It’s worth noting that the focus seems to be more on repurposing traditional radio wave spectrum, rather then pushing into higher frequencies such as terahertz.

“Demand for America’s scarce spectrum resources continues to grow,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. “Our National Spectrum Strategy will help to ensure that innovators and entrepreneurs can access the spectrum resources they need to bring exciting new products and services to market, and that government missions can meet the demands of the 21st century.”

“Over the last decade, the U.S. has led the world in developing and deploying advanced technologies, many of which rely upon access to radiofrequency spectrum,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “With this announcement, we will ensure that America continues to lead into the next decade. Starting today, we are seeking input on how we can make the most efficient use of this critical resource, with the goal of identifying new spectrum bands for potential repurposing that will spur competition and innovation for years to come.”

The NTIA publishes a chart showing how all US spectrum from 0 KHz to 300 GHz is allocated. While it should be noted that the most recent version is from 2016, that upper parameter implies even higher frequencies are not currently under serious consideration. Most likely the NTIA is looking to reclaim more spectrum from the likes of broadcast. That seems reasonable since audio and video are increasingly accessed via streaming, but it’s also reasonable for the owners of that frequency to hold out for as high a price as possible before handing it over.

Right now T-Mobile’s 600 MHz spectrum is the lowest frequency we’re aware of that is being used for commercial mobile communications. There doesn’t seem to be any physical reason why we can’t go lower than that, in fact sub-600 MHz spectrum would presumably be incredibly valuable to operators.

A look at the NTIA chart reveals around 200 MHz of spectrum immediately below the 600 MHz band which is allocated to TV. There’s also a big chunk given over to ‘aeronautical radionavigation’ around the 1 GHz range but, given all the fuss around C-band in the US, that may be out of bounds. Having said that, everything seems to be on the table at this initial stage, so maybe someone can argue that spectrum would be better used for commercial services.

You would normally expect the FCC to be at the centre of any US spectrum talk but, for some reason, the US senate failed to renew its spectrum authority for the first time ever last week. That lapse coincided with the withdrawal of a prospective FCC Commissioner after 16 months of lobbying and political wrangling, implying US communications policy is in a bit of a mess right now.

“Our airwaves are a valuable resource and we need a whole-of-government plan for managing them and using them,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in response to the NTIA announcement. “That is why this kind of long-term spectrum planning is so important. Combining it with short-term action to restore auction authority and provide a steady pipeline of spectrum for new commercial opportunities is the best way to ensure continued United States leadership in the wireless economy.”

Rosenworcel’s previous published statement in response to the authority lapse was revealing. “Time and time again our auctions have proven to be an enormous engine for market innovation and the flourishing internet ecosystem, and for expanding the reach of next-generation connectivity to everyone, everywhere,” she wrote. “To date, the FCC has held 100 auctions and has raised more than $233 billion in revenues and unlocked extraordinary benefits for the American people.”

Raised $233 billion in revenues? Surely you mean transferred $233 billion from mobile companies, and indirectly their customers, to the state. That Rosenworcel was so brazen about positioning spectrum auctions as, effectively, a tax is simultaneously refreshing and depressing. It also casts a cloud over this search for new spectrum; is it as much a bid to ‘raise revenues’ as anything else?

The NTIA is aiming to ‘develop its strategy’ by the end of this year but is only offering a one-month window for initial comments. As with so much else, what the US decides on this matter could set a precedent for many other countries. It does seem reasonable for spectrum to be reallocated from TV and radio broadcast to mobile broadband and the action in the lower frequencies will be especially significant.


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About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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