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The call for more spectrum is a never-ceasing refrain from ever-expanding telecommunications companies. Many, though, have already acknowledged that communications airwaves are a finite resource, and sooner or later they’re going to have to learn to share.

But what does the picture of a shared spectrum future really look like? Beyond basic time-sharing, what control mechanisms will we see?

According to Kevin Kelly, CEO of government network solutions contractor LGS Innovations, the future of spectrum sharing will be much more sophisticated than the relatively simply shared-use arrangements in use today. Kelly likened the progression to a newly built highway that quickly fills with cars, necessitating the creative use of the lanes available, as with carpool and emergency lanes.

“Right now if I do spectrum sharing, I’m going to grab on to this channel, this frequency, I’m going to use it for five hours, and then I’m going to shut down my transmitter and then maybe somebody else uses it,” he explained. “What if we’re so sophisticated that your radio and my radio use the same frequency and we turn the transmit and receive pairs on and off within milliseconds of each other – on, off, on, off – and we share it simultaneously but at very discreet intervals? That’s a whole other level of intelligence where you’ve got to get into sophisticated network timing and sequencing of transmitters and so forth.”

On step on the path to such complexity is a project Kelly said LGS is currently working on to develop frequency agile, dynamically provisioned software radios.

While frequency agile radios exist today, Kelly said LGS is looking to take them a step further by including capabilities to survey the network as the system is booting up, determine where there’s available spectrum, and reprogram the radios autonomously.

“The technologies that we’re developing and demonstrating with our clients are the ability before I turn on my cellular system it does a scan of the wireless spectrum, it determines who’s transmitting, where they are, what frequencies, what power levels, what’s the signal, what’s the wave form, and very quickly creates an operational picture of the wireless spectrum around you,” Kelly reported. “The next step is to then program the radio of your transmitter that’s in the process of powering up to avoid jamming the other users.”

Though Kelly noted the aforementioned LGS project addresses an issue similar to a “hard problem” challenge issued by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in March, he said LGS is not a part of the DARPA program.

But with sharing a common resources means there will be rules, and Kelly indicated there will also need to be systems capable of detecting violations and alerting the proper authorities – whoever they may be.

“Satellite carriers and TV network providers and cellular carriers and government agencies have agree to release spectrum, in some cases share spectrum in others, but who’s going to watch the store?” he asked.

To that end, Kelly said LGS is also developing spectrum compliance monitoring technology that can do more than just detect power levels.

“We’re also developing a system that can very rapidly tell you ‘oh a transmitter just popped up in your geographic region, above the power level it’s supposed to be transmitting, not in the frequency it’s supposed to be transmitting in, here’s the coordinates on the map, here’s the signal it’s transmitting, here’s the duration, power levels, everything,’ so that somebody – and the somebody has yet to be determined – but somebody can respond, go see what it is, and ideally correct it.”

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