Institute for Telecommunication Sciences
the research laboratory of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

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Spectrum Efficiency Metrics: A New Report

February 23, 2018

The Radio Act of 1912 dictated perhaps the first spectrum efficiency requirement when it said that “In all circumstances, except in case of signals or radiograms relating to vessels in distress, all stations shall use the minimum amount of energy necessary to carry out any communication desired. Formal spectrum efficiency studies began over half a century ago, but there is still no widely-accepted method for applying generalized spectrum efficiency metrics to specific radio (i.e., wireless) systems and services. Without metrics, it is impossible to demonstrate improvements in spectrum efficiency.

NTIA is committed to ensuring that the government’s use of this valuable resource is as efficient and effective as possible. But what does it mean to be an efficient user of spectrum? And how can future systems make better use of spectrum? ITS digs into these questions in NTIA Technical Report TR-18-530, A 53-Year History of Spectrum Efficiency Studies and Recommended Future Directions, a new report that reviews more than 50 years of studies examining domestic and international spectrum efficiency to hone insights for future research.

The literature review found broad consensus on the general form of fundamental spectrum efficiency metrics spectrum efficiency metrics for terrestrial broadcasting, mobile, and fixed services. But the application of generalized spectrum efficiency metrics to specific radio systems and services, each with messy individual idiosyncrasies, is more problematic, and complexity increases when we attempt to apply these metrics to spectrum sharing scenarios and rapid network densification.

Based on the research, ITS makes a number of recommendations to address spectrum sharing, and suggestions for how best to focus future spectrum efficiency studies to enable the United States to maximize spectrum opportunities.