Enhancing Access to the Radio Spectrum (EARS) is a multi-disciplinary activity whose goal is to improve the efficiency with which the radio spectrum is utilized and to improve access to the radio spectrum in support of current and new technologies. Achieving these goals will, among other impacts, improve the availability of wireless broadband to Americans presently without broadband access, as called for in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Because the radio spectrum is a valuable but finite natural resource, improvements in spectrum efficiency will have significant economic impact to the nation and the world. This award funds the first step, which is an invitational workshop that will bring together some of the key researchers and policy makers involved in radio spectrum access. All relevant fields will be represented, including science, engineering, economics, and policy/regulatory. The output of the workshop will include a vision for the future of radio spectrum access and use, and a prioritized list of research areas that can help achieve that vision.
During the last two decades, the use of the radio spectrum has intensified and expanded enormously. Wireless systems have proven to be a major productivity tool for every sector of the national economy and have become integrated into the fabric of our society. As they have proliferated, and as new applications continue to emerge, precious spectrum resources are in ever-greater demand: Since the release of the latest generation of smart phones, for example, data traffic on some mobile networks has increased by over 6000%. We are undoubtedly just beginning to see the vastly increasing demand for higher data throughput as new applications, such as machine-to-machine communications, emerge that will drive even larger requirements. To meet this growing challenge, new approaches, technologies, and policies will be required to enable more flexible and efficient access to the radio spectrum. The key to moving forward is the establishment of a comprehensive vision for future spectrum use, and a well-defined pathway to achieve that vision, which addresses the needs of all sectors of American society — public, private, industrial, scientific, and government. The stakes are high in this technology development. The country that develops the key intellectual property to enable the efficient use of the spectrum and adopts new and effective spectrum regulations will have strong competitive advantages in the manufacturing of new communication systems and increased productivity in using this technology. The importance of the spectrum as an economic growth engine was brought forth in two recent releases: The Presidential Memorandum on Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution and the National Broadband Plan. Innovations in spectrum use will be necessary to achieve the goals of these important initiatives, which include making available a total of 500 MHz over the next ten years to support new applications and technologies. With wireless revenues presently reaching several hundred billion dollars annually, and with some estimates of the domestic economic impact of wireless technology approaching $1 trillion annually, these new technologies will provide a competitive economic advantage to American industry and bring exciting new services to all Americans. With the Presidential Memorandum and the National Broadband Plan as backdrops, the National Science Foundation funded the Enhancing Access to the Radio Spectrum (EARS) workshop on August 4–6, 2010, in Arlington, Virginia. The workshop brought together a diverse set of stakeholders from across the nation, including representatives from public, commercial, scientific, and government sectors. Supported by the NSF directorates for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Computer and Information Science and Engineering, the workshop was led by principal investigators Prof. Jennifer T. Bernhard (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Prof. Jeffrey H. Reed (Virginia Tech) and Prof. Jung-min "Jerry" Park (Virginia Tech). Over the course of three days, a distinguished interdisciplinary group of researchers and spectrum stakeholders identified research topics that will help to develop technology and policies that can unlock the true potential of the radio spectrum while respecting the needs of established users. The participants included engineers, physical scientists, economists, regulators, members of private industry, representatives of government agencies, and others with expert knowledge of the radio spectrum. The goals of the workshop were to identify and prioritize research opportunities that will contribute to the following objectives: To lead to future enhancements in the efficiency by which the radio spectrum is used To enhance the ability of all Americans to access broadband wireless services and realize other benefits derived from efficient spectrum use The list of research opportunities is the main output of the workshop and could be used, for example, toward the creation of an NSF solicitation responsive to the objectives of EARS. The list appears in section 7 of the report (available at www.nsf.gov/mps/ast/nsf_ears_workshop_2010_final_report.pdf). This research is expected to lead to substantial benefits, and among them are three areas that are presently of great national interest: Faster broadband access covering larger portions of the country, including traditionally underserved areas; Increased spectrum availability for public safety, homeland security, and national defense; and Recovery of spectrum capacity for federal government users impacted by reallocations. Given the importance of the radio spectrum to the nation, the workshop participants agreed by consensus that a research initiative that addresses the identified challenges should be established as soon as possible.