Federal spectrum sharing advocates finally got what they wished for: President Obama is directing federal agencies to maximize spectrum efficiency through greater sharing of federal spectrum with commercial users in a memo released Fri. While the wireless industry may be skeptical about how the idea will technically work, cable—hungry for more spectrum for WiFi—gave it a thumbs up.

Comcast, which backs sharing of the 5 GHz band, is "optimistic that together we can identify additional spectrum that is necessary to support next generation gigabit WiFi technologies," Sena Fitzmaurice, vp, govt communications, said. The president’s memo dedicated a whole section to unlicensed spectrum use, which it said "plays an important role in fostering new wireless uses by enabling ‘innovation without permission.’" Pointing to products and services such as personal electronics that run on unlicensed spectrum, the memo said unlicensed use is "poised to make substantial contributions to the retail, manufacturing, and other sectors." Citing studies that suggest the majority of traffic over mobile devices is now carried over WiFi, the memo called the technology "essential to easing the strain on the cellular networks" of major carriers. The US has "substantially" more spectrum available for unlicensed services vs the EU, the memo noted.

NCTA appreciates the president’s direction to make more licensed and unlicensed spectrum to market, said Brian Dietz, vp, communications and digital strategy. In association with the memo, the White House issued a report on broadband growth in the last 4 years. While cable, DSL, and mobile wireless are all widely available at basic broadband speeds of 25 Mbps, only cable (76.42%) is widely available, followed by fiber (18.72%), according to the report. Cable has invested more than $200bln in broadband networks since ’96, NCTA said.

The initiative could help major wireless carriers and new mobile entrant DISH, which is looking to acquire more spectrum, Stifel Nicolaus said in a research note. How effective the initiative is will depend on the "rigor" of the administration’s implementation, the analysts said. The initiative came as the FCC is working to launch its broadcast spectrum auction, expected sometime next year.

Other proposals from the memo include calling on federal agencies to increase public-private R&D (funded by a $23mln NSF award), emphasize spectrum efficiency in government procurements and spectrum assignments, and improve the accuracy on their reporting of use. A White House spectrum policy team will oversee the implementation of the memo with additional recommendations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared in CableFAX Daily. Go here to subscribe.

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