Notre Dame to lead $25 million SpectrumX project; first NSF Spectrum Innovation Initiative Center

The explosion of wireless applications enabled by advanced radio technologies has placed access to a key natural resource, the radio frequency spectrum, at a premium.

In the United States and around the world, radio frequencies are allocated to a variety of services such as mobile broadband, broadcasting and navigation (GPS) that are now mainstream and widely used. But the increasing demands of commercial wireless, especially 5G networks, as well as the greater needs of scientific, satellite and defense applications, among others, require paradigm shifts in management of the radio spectrum and in coordination of research and development around it.

To address these concerns, the University of Notre Dame-led SpectrumX project is bringing together experts from 29 organizations to transform the landscape of spectrum research, education, collaboration and management. The center has received $25 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its Spectrum Innovation Initiative.

“For the United States to continue unleashing spectrum at home and competing globally, we need a more national, interdisciplinary and proactive approach to pursue breakthroughs at many levels — in scientific receivers, spectrum sensing, coexistence and sharing mechanisms, cloud automation, and flexible licenses and enforcement,” said Nick Laneman, director of SpectrumX, co-director of Notre Dame’s Wireless Institute and professor of electrical engineering. “SpectrumX will pursue these innovations and create the world’s largest academic hub where all radio spectrum stakeholders can collaborate and contribute to maximizing the societal benefits provided by this precious resource.”

NSF has entered into agreements with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which regulates government use of the radio spectrum, and the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates non-government use of the spectrum, to help align investments in spectrum research, infrastructure and workforce development with U.S. spectrum regulatory and policy objectives, principles and strategies.

“It is our privilege to lend Notre Dame’s faculty expertise, research infrastructure and external partnerships to this important effort. The SpectrumX collaboration addresses the need for responsible and effective management of the radio frequency spectrum so that our generation and all that follow can continue to benefit from the wireless technology advancements so central to daily life,” said Marie Lynn Miranda, the Charles and Jill Fischer Provost at Notre Dame.

NSF is also developing a broader government working group, and SpectrumX is forming an external advisory board. All of these groups will engage with SpectrumX on a regular basis to enhance strategic planning and translation of center results into practice.

“Given the importance and scale of all of this work, we have a tremendous opportunity to prepare a spectrum workforce of diverse, civic-minded and globally engaged scientists, engineers, economists and policymakers in the field,” Laneman said.

Much of the current workforce is aging, and the field has some had difficulty recruiting top young talent, Laneman said. SpectrumX will address those concerns with a comprehensive education and workforce development program — starting in middle and high school classrooms and extending through undergraduate and graduate studies to prepare students in spectrum innovation, management and economic development.

“Congestion of the radio spectrum is a key challenge for science and for all sectors of society and the economy,” said Jonathan Williams, NSF program officer. “This SpectrumX NSF Spectrum Innovation Center will be a critical national hub for spectrum research and development to help overcome the challenges of interference and radio spectrum scarcity.”

SpectrumX partners are Agnes Scott College, Clemson University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New York University, Norfolk State University, Northwestern University, Olin College of Engineering, South Carolina State University, Spelman College, Stanford University, Texas Tech University, University at Albany, University of California Berkeley, University of California Los Angeles, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Pittsburgh, University of Puerto Rico de Mayaguez, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of the Virgin Islands, University of Virginia, University of the West Indies and Virginia Diodes Inc.