DOD agrees to spectrum sharing deal

An expert panel convened by the Defense Department has offered 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum to share with commercial networks looking to build up U.S. 5G capacity.

5G network (m_kow/

The White House announced that the government has added another 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum to the pool of bandwidth available for commercial 5G use.

The spectrum comes from the Department of Defense – a swath in the 3450-3550 MHz band that is used by shipboard and ground based radar as well as certain weapons guidance and safety systems. On a press call teeing up the new policy on Aug. 10, DOD CIO Dana Deasy touted the promise of sharing the bandwidth with commercial users.

"With this additional 100 MHz, the U.S. now has a contiguous 530 megahertz of mid-band spectrum from 3450-3980 MHz to enable higher capacity 5G networks," Deasy said.

The effort was established in mid-April to study various spectrum sharing proposals. A 180-person group -- America's Mid-Band Initiative Teams, with representation from each service and the Office of the Secretary of Defense –settled on a swath of spectrum identified in a January report from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration as feasible for time-based sharing with commercial users.

Deasy said the sharing rules are expected "to be similar to AWS-3, where for the most part the spectrum will be available for commercial use without limits, while simultaneously minimizing impact to DoD operations."

The AWS-3 auction, which closed in early 2015, raised $44.9 billion for the U.S. from wireless companies.

The Pentagon is preparing a "Spectrum Relocation Fund Transition Plan" that will help minimize disruptions to DOD operations as systems are moved or altered to enable sharing with commercial networks.

Michael Kratsios, the White House chief technology officer and DOD’s acting head for research and engineering, called the move "critically needed" and added that the sharing of the mid-band spectrum doesn't sacrifice "our nation's great military and national security capabilities."

"America needs more mid-band spectrum,” Kratsios said, “Mid-band has the ideal characteristics of 5G deployment [and] can travel long distances to ensure that all Americans have access to the network while delivering ultra-fast speed and high performance that will power the technology into the future."

The Federal Communications Commission will be able to auction off this portion of the spectrum beginning in December 2021 with the wireless industry to begin operating 5G on it by mid-2022, Kratsios said.

The move in the mid-band doesn't alter the Defense Department's strong opposition to a decision by the FCC to permit wireless provider Ligado Networks to operate a low-power terrestrial nationwide 5G network in the L-band, which is adjacent to bands used by the Global Positioning System. The Pentagon and senior lawmakers on the defense committees from both parties have expressed reservations about the move to license commercial users so close to the critical GPS system.

"There are too many unknowns and the risks are too great to allow the proposed Ligado system to proceed in light of the operational impact to GPS," Deasy told lawmakers in a May, 2020 hearing.