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Feds find new spectrum for mobile Internet services

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The government has found a 95 MHz spectrum band it wants to repurpose for mobile broadband services, but relocating federal agencies and figuring out spectrum sharing won't be easy.

The government is on a mission to find more spectrum for mobile broadband services, and yesterday the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it’s having some success. Through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Department of Commerce said that 95 megahertz of spectrum currently in use by federal agencies could be repurposed for commercial use. If it is reallocated and shared with commercial carriers, the move would go a long way toward President Barack Obama’s goal of finding an additional 500 MHz of spectrum over ten years for consumer wireless services.

As consumers continue to eat up bandwidth on mobile devices, the demand for commercial wireless spectrum is skyrocketing. The issue of spectrum played a large role in AT&T’s attempted acquisition of T-Mobile, and it is a focus in the landmark wireless agreement Verizon is attempting to forge with cable operators.

Because spectrum resources are finite, the government is trying to ensure that wireless frequency bands are used as efficiently as possible. According to the NTIA, 20 federal agencies currently hold more than 3,100 frequency assignments. Although those spectrum assignments support many critical functions including law enforcement and military communications, it is possible in some cases to move federal agencies to other spectrum bands that will continue to meet their needs.

In the case of the 95 MHz band the NTIA cited yesterday, the government believes that a combination of relocation and spectrum sharing will allow it to open up frequencies in the 1755-1850 MHz range to commercial carriers. The NTIA recommends further study by the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee to determine the fastest and cheapest way to make relocation and spectrum sharing possible.

A full report on the Assessment of the Viability of Accommodating Wireless Broadband in the 1755-1850 MHz Band [PDF link] is available online, as is the NTIA’s ten-year plan for spectrum recovery.

Image credit: NTIA report

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure