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Statements: Kennard | Ness

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Federal Communications Commission
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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action. See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).

March 17, 2000

News Media contact:
David Fiske (202) 418-0513


The FCC today asked for public comment on a new generation of radio equipment under development that can be quickly reprogrammed to transmit and receive on any frequency within a wide range using virtually any transmission format. This programming capability could allow a single device to transmit in the various cellular, PCS and other wireless services used in the United States and worldwide.

In a Notice of Inquiry approved today, the Commission stated that introduction of this new technology, referred to as "software defined radio" (SDR), has the potential to change the way users can communicate across traditional services. These changes could promote more efficient use of spectrum, expand access to broadband communications for all persons and increase competition among telecommunications service providers. The Commission sought comment on how SDR could affect a number of Commission functions in the future, including spectrum allocation, spectrum assignment and equipment approval.

The Notice is designed to solicit information about the state of SDR technology, interoperability issues, spectrum efficiency issues, equipment authorization processes, and other issues to assist the Commission in deciding whether to propose rule changes as a result of the developing SDR technology.

In a software defined radio, functions that were formerly carried out solely in hardware, such as the generation of the transmitted signal and the tuning and detection of the received radio signal, are performed by software that controls high-speed signal processors. Because of the ability to be easily reprogrammed, a software defined radio could be programmed easily to operate over a broad range of frequencies, bandwidths and transmission standards.

The Commission asked for information on how SDR might improve "interoperability" among communications systems that currently operate in multiple frequency bands and use different standards. In particular, the Commission asked whether SDR could eventually improve the ability of public safety and emergency agencies to communicate across the multiple frequency bands they use today. The Commission also asked whether SDR would allow wireless operators to change to a more efficient transmission system without having to replace base station transmitters or receiving units in the field.

In the Notice, the Commission asked for comments about how SDR could result in improved spectrum efficiency and spectrum sharing. The Notice asked, for example, whether SDR would enable greater flexibility in access to open frequencies, and whether such equipment could be designed to include some "intelligence" that would let it monitor the spectrum to detect usage by other parties and then transmit on open frequencies. The Commission asked about the implications of SDR with regard to the current spectrum allocation model.

Because SDRs would allow technical characteristics such as operating frequencies and output power to be controlled through software, the Commission asked for comments on the implications for equipment authorization and interference control. The Commission invited comment as to whether advance FCC approval should be required for the radio hardware, the software, or a combination of the two, and how SDR equipment should be tested for compliance with FCC requirements and standards. The Commission also asked whether an authentication system could be designed using special authentication codes in the software.

The Commission noted that although SDR technology was first demonstrated in a Department of Defense project in 1995, the Commission's Technological Advisory Council (TAC), established in 1998, has been reviewing SDR technology, and is studying ways that the availability of such devices might affect the Commission's traditional approaches to spectrum management, as well as ways the agency could facilitate experimentation and commercial deployment of such devices.

It noted that while the TAC is continuing this work, it is important, through this Notice of Inquiry, to obtain input on the subject from all interested parties to ensure that all viewpoints are represented.

Action by the Commission March 17, 2000, by Notice of Inquiry (FCC 00-103). Chairman Kennard, Commissioners Ness, Furchtgott-Roth, Powell and Tristani, with Chairman Kennard and Commissioner Ness each issuing a separate statement.

OET Docket No. 00-47

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Office of Engineering & Technology Contacts: Julius Knapp (202) 418-2472; Hugh Van Tuyl (202) 418-7506