The Federal Communications Commission has given T-Mobile USA the green light to begin testing a plan to share spectrum with federal users in a swath of spectrum coveted by the wireless industry.
The pilot program will test the impact of sharing spectrum in the 1755-1780 megahertz band to see how commercial use of those airwaves impacts federal agencies currently using that band.
The wireless industry has been pushing the federal government to try to free up the band for exclusive use by commercial providers. However, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration has said that moving federal users from this band would take years and cost billions.
"Today, we take an important step forward in our effort to enable greater government-commercial spectrum sharing, a new tool that joins clearing and reallocation as part of an 'all-of-the-above' strategy to address our nation's spectrum challenges," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement late Tuesday. "By granting the first authorization of testing in the 1755-1780 MHz band, the commission hopes to facilitate commercial mobile broadband services in that band, which would significantly benefit millions of U.S. wireless consumers and help drive the mobile innovation economy."
While wireless industry officials say they are open to sharing as part of a comprehensive spectrum strategy, they also have voiced concern that the Obama administration is focusing too much attention on sharing spectrum and not enough on clearing bands for exclusive use by wireless companies. Wireless firms say they will need more spectrum to meet their customers' growing demand for wireless broadband technologies.
"The testing we propose is part of an industry-wide effort to build critical understanding of operations in this band, and we will be working with other carriers and equipment manufacturers moving ahead," T-Mobile Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tom Sugrue said in a statement. "There remains a critical need for additional bandwidth for commercial services, and our ability to test in this band represents an important milestone in bringing new spectrum resources to market."