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A message to the incoming administration: To ensure continued wireless-enabled prosperity, the way the United States allocates spectrum needs to transform now. U.S. regulators and companies have a short window of opportunity to partner on new policy and technology solutions that unlock the emergence of decentralized, peer-to-peer, cooperative edge networks that:

  1. Are capital-efficient, decentralized, and flexible.
  2. Frictionlessly scale beyond the edge of cell tower networks.
  3. Can instantly and automatically allocate any frequency, to any application, at any time to enable applications to make the best and highest use of spectrum resources.
  4. Are built with open-source integration points to enhance extensibility.
  5. Enable fine-grained and equitably distributed ability to monetize valuable services, while providing integration with existing and new value chains.
  6. Enable efficient policy distribution, compliance audit, and enforcement.
  7. Capitalize on the promise of 5G, the CBRS innovation band, 6G, and future-Gs.

For the past 100 years, the evolving wireless communications market has mostly increased consumers’ welfare by allocating resources to their highest-value uses. But on the current path, near-peer players like China are likely to become more dominant across global markets for wireless standards and solutions. A more progressive, future-proofed path will position U.S. stakeholders to make the most of innovation band opportunities and meet the challenge head-on.

On the supply side, wireless spectrum has been like “gold” during the 100 years from the rise of radio technology to today. Whoever owned the gold (access to airwaves) controlled spectrum’s economic outcomes. From the 2020s to the 2050s the spectrum market role will become more complex and important as it will increasingly impact capital flows and the public good. Since the market can’t artificially create more of a finite resource (spectrum), and can’t afford to build infinite infrastructure (backhaul), providers and consumers need better ways to use and share resources.

On the demand side, 50 billion new devices are about to super-crowd the airwaves with trillions of device-to-device (D2D) transactions, for example, consumer and industrial IoT, 5G mobile devices, and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) driving a huge increase in bandwidth demand. Some devices, especially those that drive, fly, or otherwise pose critical life-safety risks, will demand near-zero latency and absolute fault tolerance even as the number of endpoints increases exponentially.

U.S. companies and regulators are starting to address these problems by promoting Spectrum Access Services (SAS) and other tools for slicing and subletting edge network resources. The general concept is that operators and users will share frequencies and computing, often virtually, to make more efficient use of limited resources. This is parallel claim to 5G marketers’ claim, and architecturally SAS and 5G are intertwined: SAS operators leverage a service-based architecture (e.g. “big brother” in the cloud) that is just an evolution of 4G backhaul management.

Big brother is reliable, but even with SAS it not automated. Latency times increase as traffic flows from endpoints at the edge, north-and-south, to and from cell towers or central cloud adjudicators. Intel predicts that the further transactions move from the device, the greater their latency, for example1:

Device-to-device: <1ms
Device-to-consumer-premised node: <5ms
Network edge: <10-40 ms
Network core: <60 ms
Data center/cloud: <100 ms

These latencies are fine for most current digital services but applications of the future, especially life safety applications, will require <5ms to <1ms latencies and direct D2D communication. There won’t be time to route service requests and frequency coordination decisions across the edge, core, or cloud; and we can’t afford to have anything but the most efficient use of resources as the EMOE becomes more congested.These are solvable problems, but they will persist as long as spectrum allocation is done centrally. Centralization sets up a future of connectivity haves and have-nots, which is unequitable and hurts U.S. companies’ competitiveness. Coordination must be decentralized so that it can be done peer-to-peer, dynamically, with real-time local data, with near-zero latency.