White House, Pentagon agree to fastest transfer of spectrum for commercial 5G use

A spectrum-sharing agreement with industry was developed in 15 weeks and could help domestic vendors challenge China's Huawei.
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(Getty Images)

The White House and Pentagon have formulated a plan for the fastest transfer of federal spectrum for commercial 5G wireless use in history, without affecting military operations.

In December 2021, the Federal Communications Commission will auction 100MHz of mid-band spectrum in the 3450-3550 range, on which the wireless industry can begin operating 5G networks by mid-2022.

America’s Mid-Band Initiative Team formed in mid-April created a spectrum-sharing framework for military and industry in an “unprecedented” 15 weeks, Dana Deasy, DOD CIO, said on a Monday call with reporters.

“[F]or the most part the spectrum will be available for commercial use without limits while simultaneously minimizing impact to DOD operations,” Deasy said.


The spectrum band is used by “critical” high-powered defense radar systems across the military for air defense, missile and gunfire control, counter mortar, bomb scoring, battlefield weapon location, air traffic control, and range safety, he said.

So DOD established a working group of 180 subject matter experts (SMEs) in ship, airborne, ground and electronic warfare across all branches to prepare a Spectrum Relocation Fund Transition Plan. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy embedded its own SMEs within DOD’s working group.

The military’s sharing arrangement with industry will be based on operational needs like training and readiness. So if paratroopers will be jumping from planes that need radar to fly in formation, that will be coordinated with industry.

The U.S. will have 530MHz allocated for 5G networks, once the spectrum is auctioned, and more is being considered in the 3GHz band.

“As we go down lower in the spectrum, obviously the operational needs of DOD and what has to be done to make that available becomes much more complex,” said a senior administration official. “We will continue to look at that.”


The 18-month timeframe for converting the spectrum to commercial use is laid out in the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act and exceeds previous auctions that have taken six to eight years to complete.

Officials would not say if FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly‘s April letter to President Trump regarding freeing up mid-band spectrum for 5G, or the FCC’s decision to let Ligado Networks access L-band spectrum possibly affecting DOD’s uses of GPS, played into Monday’s announcement.

The spectrum will support the development of “strong, large” domestic 5G systems for “trusted” vendors that can challenge China’s Huawei, said a senior administration official.

Officials charge the Chinese government could use Huawei equipment to spy on or conduct cyberattacks against the U.S. and its allies, a charge the company denies. But that didn’t stop the U.S. from sanctioning Huawei and successfully pressuring the U.K. to ban the company’s equipment from its high-speed 5G networks.

“Without domestic deployment, you just don’t have the market share being supported for … Huawei’s competitors,” the official said.

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