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

Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / Programs / Spectrum Monitoring

Spectrum Monitoring

“The NTIA shall design and conduct a pilot program to monitor spectrum usage in real time in selected communities throughout the country to determine whether a comprehensive monitoring program could disclose opportunities for more efficient spectrum access, including via sharing.” (The White House, Presidential Memorandum: “Expanding America’s Leadership in Wireless Communications,” June 14, 2013.)

Confronting Current and Future Spectrum Challenges

Critical infrastructure and the economy of the United States require secure and performant wireless technologies. However, these technologies face a variety of challenges including: 

  • RF Spectrum is a finite resource
  • Congestion of RF spectrum may lead to unintended interference/degradation
  • Jamming and intentional interference has become cheaper and easier
  • The security community has largely ignored RF challenges
  • Traditional monitoring approaches do not scale to the current and future challenges

The growth and stability of wireless communications depends on real-time awareness of the radio frequency (RF) environment!

Building the Future of Spectrum Monitoring

The NTIA Spectrum Monitoring program is creating a new spectrum monitoring paradigm to enable distributed, persistent, and automated monitoring with:

These technologies are being developed and matured within a real-world test bed known as the Boulder Wireless Test City (BWTC). As technologies mature, they can be transitioned to production-level deployments (e.g., NTIA’s 3.5 GHz CBRS band monitoring) to enable automation in spectrum management and enforcement. They can also be deployed to other Federal Agencies to solve their critical spectrum monitoring challenges.

Collaboration and Open Source Software Development

We also aim to establish community and break down silos. Goals are to establish standards (e.g., IEEE 802.15.22.3 SCOS standard); work with other R&D groups (through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements and Interagency Agreements) to integrate new technologies within BWTC, and collaborate via open-source code development. Code repositories released to the public include:

  • gr-ltetrigger: set of utilities for sensing LTE
  • sigmf-ns-ntia: SigMF metadata extensions and supporting software used within Spectrum Characterization and Occupancy Sensing (SCOS) system
  • scos-sensor: platform for operating an RF sensor over a network

Related Publications

[1] M. Cotton, L. Vu, B. Eales, A. Hicks, “3.45-3.65 GHz Spectrum Occupancy from Long-Term Measurements in 2018 and 2019 at Four Coastal Locations,” NTIA Technical Report TR-20-548, April 2020.

[2] D. Anderson, “A Cost-Efficient, Field-Ready Sensor to Detect and Decode LTE FDD Downlink at Low Signal Levels,” GNU Radio Conference 2016, Boulder, CO, Oct. 28, 2016.

[3] J. Wepman, B. Bedford, H. Ottke, M. Cotton, “RF Sensors for Spectrum Monitoring Applications: Fundamentals and RF Performance Test Plan,” NTIA Technical Report TR-15-519, August 2015.

[4] M. Cotton, M. Souryal, J. Wepman, M. Ranganathan, J. Kub, S. Engelking, Y. Lo, H. Ottke, R. Kaiser, and D. Anderson, “An Overview of the NTIA/NIST Spectrum Monitoring Pilot Program,” International Workshop on Smart Spectrum at IEEE WCNC 2015, New Orleans, LA, March 9–12, 2015.

[5] M. Cotton and R. Dalke, “Spectrum Occupancy Measurements of the 3550–3650 MHz Maritime Radar Band Near San Diego, CA,” NTIA TR-14-500, Jan. 2014.

For more information about this program, contact Michael Cotton.