Senate bill, NIST program both aim to ignite 5G networks

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The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation unanimously advanced a tech-industry backed bill Thursday that will help develop new, fifth generation mobile networks to handle the coming explosion of bandwidth demand from Internet of Things connected devices.

The Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless, or MOBILE NOW, Act will set in motion various technological evaluations and government mandates that will help create the fifth generation or 5G network — a blanket term for the faster and more efficient future mobile network currently being researched and developed by the telecommunications industry.

The bill comes as government scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology are stepping up their own research into new technologies that will enable low latency, high reliability and ultra-wide bandwidth on the new network.

“The MOBILE NOW Act is our passport to a 5G future of gigabit wireless connectivity,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who introduced the bill last month. “America needs these reforms to continue the era of digital innovation by forging ultra-fast wireless connections with everything from light-bulbs to
cars through smart use of our limited spectrum resources.”

The act will codify into law President Barack Obama’s 2010 memorandum, that called on federal agencies to free-up at least 500 megaHertz of spectrum for various kinds of wireless use by 2020. To accomplish this, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will assess 6 different spectrum band’s wireless feasibility, while the Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission will report on commercial wireless services.

Thune’s goal, the senator said, is for the bill to allow more spectrum for the private sector. The act will also require a new National Broadband Facilities Asset database to be built out, listing federal property and premises where new broadband infrastructure might be constructed.

There is no companion measure in the House, congressional sources told FedScoop.

[Read More: With Internet of Things Boom, comes need for spectrum, industry says]

The bill comes during a massive spike in mobile data traffic, according to Cisco’s Global Mobile Data Traffic Report. Mobile traffic grew 74 percent last year and half a billion mobile devices and connections were added. 

This rise has created a shortage of spectrum, or a “spectrum crunch” among Internet of Things devices, said Michael Janezic, the program manager of the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network.

“With more and more devices depending on wireless connection, these spectrums are getting very congested,” Janezic said. “There’s not a lot of room left.”

To help solve that crunch, NIST’s Communications Technology Laboratory is working on ways to improve the utilization of the spectrum with more efficient sharing. Most utilized spectrum bands today go up to 6 GHz, but future bands could be extended up to 100 GHz, according to the head of NIST’s Wireless Network Division Nada Golmie.

Providing more “accurate characterizations of the channel propagation properties,” is another way to improve the efficiency of spectrum use, she said. The lab is also researching ultra-dense networks, which allow an unprecedented number of devices to share the same band. NIST has asked for a $2 million plus-up to its $14.8 million advanced communications budget next year for additional research work helping to create a 5G network.

“The range of applications envisioned include massive IoT, controls requiring very low latency and high reliability, in addition to ultra-high speed and mobile broadband for high definition video and augmented reality,” Golmie said.

NIST also formed the international organization industry group 5G Millimeter Wave Channel Model Alliance, to model and measure wireless channels at much higher frequencies. Another program, called Massive Multiple Input Multiple Output, or Massive MIMO, could also improve network efficiency by allowing systems to function with hundreds of working antennas, Golmie said.

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Commerce Department, Departments, NAS, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
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