Switzerland the unlikely ideal to make dynamic spectrum sharing a reality


It's not often a technology company positions itself as the Switzerland of its sector, but Federated Wireless is doing just that as it strives to serve as the neutral heart of dynamic spectrum sharing.

Last month, the United States regulator FCC finalised a project to make 3.5GHz the "innovation band" for the market, opening up around 150MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband and other use cases.

This is great news for spectrum starved operators as well as players like Google who are keen to strengthen their own mobile broadband offerings. The Android company is already readying a trial in Kansas City to build a network by fitting antennas onto lampposts.

The FCC took control of the spectrum from the US Navy, which has and will continue to use the band for its own air traffic control services.

Opportunity lay in how the Navy only needed to use a fraction of the band, freeing up its potential for other companies to step in and take advantage of the band.

This is where Federated Wireless has entered. It is one of several companies – Google, Amdocs, Comsearch, CTIA, Keybridge and Sony are the others – to have built a cloud-based spectrum access system (SAS) to identify when the military needs to use the spectrum, which part of the band it is relying upon, and ensure there is no interference with other users.

Other companies can purchase licenses in four-hour increments from the FCC for a range of different services.

Chris Silva, CEO of Federated's holding company Allied Minds, explains it wants to offer service providers, from operators to companies keen to offer short term connectivity, access through its SAS.

Over the coming months the seven proviers' solutions will be reviewed before being given the go-ahead for trials. Given operators' already existing fears about Google, Federated Wireless is aiming to position itself as an honest broker in the process. Silva says: "We needed somebody to be Switzerland and that's us."

Silva says the opening up of the 3.5GHz spectrum amounts to a considerable change in how the US market will operate. Judging by its existing business model, Google is likely to use the band for as low cost a service as it can offer customers. MVNOs are also likely to flock to it, Silva says. "Carriers will have to respond with a low cost alternative."

With the likes of Ruckus Wireless already building low cost access points for 3.5GHz, setting up a network using this band should be easy. Silva identifies sporting events as a big opportunity, citing the likes of Nascar events. A short-term 3.5GHz network could be used to beam content from the hundreds of cameras set up across a track, in cars and pit crews to the crowd.

He adds: "This is best suited for indoors, especially as the industry moves to 5G. Only two percent of buildings in the United States offer LTE coverage indoors. This offers a means of overcoming Wi-Fi's dominance."

Silva describes the opportunity being presented by 3.5Ghz is akin to the sharing economy of Uber and AirBnB, offering companies the opportunity to take advantage of mobile broadband if and when they need it. He says: "It's not enough to just sell any more."

Regardless of what happened with the US, Federated is already looking further afield. Silva describes its SAS as global in potential, claiming European companies have already expressed an interest in its technology.

Dynamic spectrum access is not exclusive to the US, with the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance conducting tests in the United Kingdom last year to examine how it could be used.

Silva says: "There's not enough spectrum to go around. Sharing is a means of addressing this lack of availability."