The National Science Foundation’s Establishment of SpectrumX

In this vignette from a recent episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, part of the 5G Factor series, analysts Shelly Kramer and Ron Westfall discuss The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) establishment of SpectrumX, a new center for wireless spectrum research in the U.S.

The NSF has earmarked $25 million over the course of the next 5 years for research. They’re focused on developing new ways of sharing and managing radio airwaves, which of course is a finite resource. This is crucial research because, as Ron pointed out, 5G technology supports Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), which allows for operators to share both LTE and 5G within the same frequency band. This is an area covered very closely by Ron and Shelly, and in this short conversation, they shared insights on the exciting benefits they see coming from SpectrumX. These include:

  • Increased collaboration with stakeholders, researchers, industry partners, and government agencies
  • Ensuring the U.S. is positioning itself to lead the future of wireless technologies and systems
  • How this research will support future network iterations including 6G.

All of the above have huge implications for the future of 5G. Ron and Shelly believe the research and collaboration possibilities with SpectrumX will open new doors and drive the field forward.

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Shelly Kramer: Well, speaking of, with that, we’re going to transition a way a little bit and stay really on a similar topic. And some other news of interest is the National Science Foundation has established Spectrum X, which is the center for wireless spectrum research in the United States. And they’ve earmarked 25 million over the course of the next five years for Spectrum X and this innovation center. And they’re focused on developing new ways of sharing and managing radio airwaves. And this is a limited resource. So they’re working on figuring out ways that we can maximize that. And I thought that was particularly, I thought that was of interest today.

Ron Westfall: Oh, absolutely. In fact, as we know Shelly, 5G, part of what makes the technology distinct from previous generations of mobile is that it supports what is called dynamic spectrum sharing or DSS.

Shelly Kramer: DSS.

Ron Westfall: And this is fundamentally the ability to share both LTE and 5G within the same frequency band. And operators, really are clamoring for it.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Ron Westfall: And they have accelerated their adoption. There’ve been some high-profile operators like T-Mobile who want to kick the tires more. But nonetheless, for example, Erickson indicated that 80% of the operators that they’re working with are going to adopt DSS capabilities within the next 12 months.

Shelly Kramer: Right.

Ron Westfall: And that includes high-profile operators like Swisscom and Telstra in Australia, et cetera. And so you could see the writing on the wall and it just stands to reason. It’s like, okay, and if I can optimize my existing spectrum assets at bringing 5G on, I’m not having to do a trade-off or having to spend a lot more money on new spectrum just to support 5G.

There’s going to be that regardless. But this is just good news for operators and ecosystem. And I think this is actually very important because now we’re talking not just about millimeter-wave capabilities in the gigahertz range. Now we’re talking about capabilities in the terahertz range. And 6G technology, leverage those capabilities. So it’s demonstrating that the path to innovation requires these types of collaborations, requires government funding, and it requires they build to give operators to be able to use it in the real world and knowing that they have the confidence to adopt it, that it’s already been tested out and they’re not having to throw darts too much to really make their spectrum assets more optimized. And so this certainly, I think, another great example of how collaboration can make a difference, not only today, but in terms of anticipating 6G innovation.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. And speaking of collaboration. So with this Spectrum X, the center intends to act as a central point where stakeholders, researchers, industry participants, government agencies, everyone involved in this can collaborate. The goal is to educate, develop a diverse workforce. I mean, the part of this that’s really good news to me is, developing a diverse workforce, ensuring that future industries can rely, absolutely, you’re going to rely, on wireless technologies.

We need to have people who are trained in working in those fields. So I think that’s really important. And another part of this announcement was that the University of Notre Dame is leading a coalition of, I can get that word, of 27 industries that make up a collaborative hub. And they have an initial funding of about 7.47 million. This represents the first federal funding for a national center on wireless spectrum management, this Spectrum X. But that’s what you want to see. It’s what AT&T is doing with the Naval Academy and what other people or other carriers and companies are doing with universities throughout the United States. And this coalition that is being led by a Notre Dame. I mean, all of these things are so important because this is where the research happens. This is where the innovation happens. This is where the training of a new generation of brilliant people happens. And so all of that together, I think is really exciting news.

Ron Westfall: Yes, it really is, leveraging all the assets out there to meet all the real business needs or real consumer needs, includes how to leverage satellite spectrum in order to make the wireless fabric, more effective WiFi, LoRa WiFi, which is actually pretty key to, for example, digital twinning technology. So as you can see, this is all very important. And I think the fact that it’s taken this long for it to be established is slightly surprising, but it’s most welcome.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah.

Ron Westfall: And I think all the examples we just incited here demonstrate why.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah.

Ron Westfall: This clearly is something that is required.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and beyond industrial uses. What, to me, is really cool about Spectrum X is that they indicate they’re particularly focused on public good use cases and for science and for defense and one goal of this initiative, this coalition is, and the budget allocated here, is ensuring that the US has leadership in future wireless technologies and systems, and really understanding how to most efficiently and effectively use and share these spectrum resources. So I thought it was pretty cool.

Author Information

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”


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