Exploration of the Federal Communications Commission's Experimental Radio Service (ERS): Understanding Ten Years of Experimental Spectrum Licenses

18 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2017 Last revised: 16 Aug 2017

See all articles by Pedro Bustamante

Pedro Bustamante

University of Pittsburgh - School of Information Sciences

Martin B. H. Weiss

University of Pittsburgh - School of Information Sciences

Douglas Sicker

Carnegie Mellon University; University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Computer Science

Date Written: March 30, 2017


The primary purpose of the ERS is to provide for experimental uses of spectrum resources that are not otherwise permitted under other existing rules of the FCC. Further, these licenses provide opportunities to experiment with new radio technologies, equipment design, propagation methods or new concepts related to the use of spectrum. While experimentation and development are also allowed in well-defined existing services(1), we also find that experimental licenses are serving other purposes rather than experimenting. For instance, the use of the ERS to enable temporary use of spectrum for broadcasting and support of communication equipment of televised events (sports, political debates, etc.)(2). Thus, making experimental licenses to be a key component in guarantying access to spectrum resources that otherwise are restricted, while improving the innovation and development of wireless technologies

Experimental licenses have been awarded by the FCC for more than thirty years. Indeed, in the past 30 years (since 1987) more than 20,000 licenses have been granted. Nevertheless, little research has been published on this topic, although it appears to be directly tied to the development of wireless technologies in the U.S. We believe that in order to comprehend the relationship between experimental licenses and innovation, the first step is to evaluate and understand how they have been used. To this end, we propose a comprehensive analysis of the assignment of these licenses in the past ten years (2007-2016).

Utilizing publicly available information in the website of the Office of Engineering and Technology of the FCC (3), we have built a single repository (database) for all the technical and non-technical details of these licenses. This has permitted us to differentiate among the existing types of Experimental Licenses and, subsequently, analyze their details. We pay particular attention to the evolution, over time, of various parameters such as number and duration of licenses, the frequency of assignment, processing times, operational parameters (mainly authorized frequencies and transmission power levels), the purpose of operation, and others.

For a broader understanding and analysis of the experimental licenses, this work also aims at mining additional details within the experimental license framework. For instance, we explore current processing time trends to better understand whether obtaining experimental licenses is a time burden. Additionally, we look at factors that may influence the license granting process. In this manner, we can assess whether any factor has a more significant weight, thus influencing the likelihood of obtaining a license. Furthermore, we explore the similarities among the members of the different applicant categories defined by the FCC.

This analysis, together with our exploratory work allows us to shed light on important aspects of the experimental licensing system. From a regulatory point of view, we can assess whether the experimental licensing outcome is consistent with the original purposes of this type of licenses. From an applicant perspective, we can provide guidelines on what license parameters and services are more likely to obtain a licensing and the time constraints in the application process. Finally, from a research point of view, it would allow us to evaluate the impact that this type of licenses may have for the advancement of the testing and development of new technologies.

Finally, if time allows, we will explore how experimental spectrum licenses are correlated with the development of well known wireless developments. In this manner, we aim to first study how the ERS is related to spectrum sharing methods such as the utilization of TV White Spaces. Moreover, we would like to analyze the relationship between experimental licenses and new wireless techniques such as LTE-U or 5G.

(1) For instance, developmental rules for broadcast stations. Nevertheless, these activities are restricted to applicants that are eligible to apply for a license in this particular service and on frequencies allocated for it.

(2) In the initial exploration, we discovered that around 70% of Special Temporary Authorization of experimental licenses are issued for this kind of events.

(3) The OET is the branch within the FCC responsible for the management and assignation of licenses under the ERS.

Keywords: Spectrum, Spectrum Sharing, Experimental Radio Service, Experimental Licenses, FCC, NTIA, ERS

JEL Classification: L96, L98

Suggested Citation

Bustamante, Pedro and Weiss, Martin B. H. and Sicker, Douglas, Exploration of the Federal Communications Commission's Experimental Radio Service (ERS): Understanding Ten Years of Experimental Spectrum Licenses (March 30, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2943486 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2943486

Pedro Bustamante (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Information Sciences ( email )

United States

Martin B. H. Weiss

University of Pittsburgh - School of Information Sciences ( email )

135 N Bellefield Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

Douglas Sicker

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

University of Colorado at Boulder - Department of Computer Science ( email )

Boulder, CO
United States

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