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CITP Lecture Series: Douglas Sicker – Rethinking the Use of Radio Spectrum: The Interplay of Technology, Policy and Economics in Emerging Radio Systems

Monday, April 4, 2016
4:30 pm


Sherrerd Hall, 3rd Floor Open Space
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Headlines like “Spectrum auction nets $44.9 billion” demonstrate that radio spectrum is a valuable resource, but you might ask – why is this thing that no one can see and few can comprehend, worth so much? Not surprisingly, it has to do with the huge demand for a scarce resource – the set of useful radio frequencies, aka spectrum, that allow smartphones, WiFi, GPS, TV, radar, drones, as well as a host of military, scientific and other applications to operate is finite and fairly limited.

While this scarcity has its roots in political and technical factors dating back more than 100 years ago, recent demand, coupled with technical innovation, is forcing policymakers to rethink how to better allocate and assign spectrum. A key driver in this emerging space is the adoption of new models of sharing spectrum through the use of smarter technologies, such as cognitive radios, software defined radios, geolocation databases and interference tolerant systems. However, this approach goes against the traditional conservative regulatory model of building dead zones (areas of unused spectrum) to avoid interference between services, and so this shift in thinking –toward denser sharing of spectrum and reliance on new technologies to avoid interference– has met with resistance by both incumbent spectrum licensees and policymakers.

This high demand for a scarce resource is only complicated by the fact that spectrum is used for everything from national security and public safety to surfing the web and myriad commercial, military and scientific uses. Deciding on how to best allocate radio spectrum for these various uses while balancing needs and concerns of various users is a challenge, where battles rage on multiple fronts with a variety of players —service providers, equipment manufacturers, public interest groups, government agencies, and disputes even occur between, as well as within, government agencies as to the best allocation of spectrum.

This talk will discuss recent efforts in promoting new spectrum policy and technology, as well as the continuing struggle to determine and employ the best use of this scarce resource.


Dr. Douglas C. Sicker has held various positions in academia, industry and government. Doug is currently the Thomas Lord Endowed Chair in Engineering and the Department Head and Professor of Engineering and Public Policy with a joint appointment in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Previously, Doug was the DBC Endowed Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder with a joint appointment in, and Director of, the Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program. Doug recently served as the Chief Technology Officer and Senior Advisor for Spectrum at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Doug also served as the Chief Technology Officer of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and prior to this he served as a senior advisor on the FCC National Broadband Plan. Earlier he was Director of Global Architecture at Level 3 Communications, Inc. In the late 1990s, Doug served as Chief of the Network Technology Division at the FCC.

Doug is an active member of the IEEE, the ACM and the Internet Society. He served as an advisor to the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the FCC and the Department of State; the Chair of the FCC Network Reliability and Interoperability Council steering committee; an advisor on the Technical Advisory Council of the FCC, and chair of a recent National Academy study on the Boulder Department of Commerce Laboratories. He also served as a chair in the IEEE P1900 working group and was involved in contributions to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Doug has chaired numerous conferences as well as served on many program committees. Doug has published extensively in the fields of networking, wireless systems, network security and network policy and has maintained a well-funded research program through NSF, DARPA, FAA, Cisco, Intel, IBM and other sources.