Future Shock: Cognitive Radio and Spectrum Policy

One telling example of technological stress is the interplay between the explosive growth of smartphones and traditional models of spectrum allocation. Feature rich smartphones place unprecedented demands on cellular infrastructure.

With the rise of inexpensive, high-performance microprocessors and radio frequency(RF) system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs, more nimble, cognitive radio designs are now possible that can operate across wide portions of the spectrum. Software defined radio (SDR), which implements all aspects of signal processing but the analog-to-digital conversion in software, is perhaps the most general cognitive radio example. Intermediate implementations mix hardware and software functions to achieve adaptability, identifying what portion of the spectrum can be used at the current location by the device and then negotiating access (e.g., period of use, power level, and priority). White spaces communication, made possible by the transition to digital televison, is one early example.

Cognitive radio technologies are necessary but not sufficient. The spectrum future shock of exponentially rising communication demands challenges our existing spectrum allocation mechanisms. We must also adapt our policy and regulatory frameworks to enable deployment of cognitive communication technologies that span licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Both technology and policy will be needed to realize this vision of everywhere, anytime communication.

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Dan Reed


Dan Reed is Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Technology Strategy and Policy and Extreme Computing. Previously, he was the Chancellor’s Eminent Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, as well as the Director of the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and the Chancellor’s Senior Advisor for Strategy and Innovation for UNC Chapel Hill.

Dr. Reed has served as a member of the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and as a member of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC). As chair of PITAC’s computational science subcommittee, he was lead author of the report “Computational Science: Ensuring America’s Competitiveness.” On PCAST, he co-chaired the Networking and Information Technology subcommittee (with George Scalise of the Semiconductor Industry Association) and co-authored a report on the National Coordination Office’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program called “Leadership Under Challenge: Information Technology R&D in Competitive World.”

In June 2009, he completed two terms of service as chair of the board of directors of the Computing Research Association, which represents the research interests of Ph.D. granting university departments, industrial research groups and national laboratories.

He was previously Head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), where the held the Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Professorship. He has also been Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at UIUC, where he also led National Computational Science Alliance, a fifty institution partnership devoted to creating the next generation of computational science tools. He was also one of the principal investigators and chief architect for the NSF TeraGrid. He received his B.S. from Missouri University of Science and Technology and his M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science in 1983 from Purdue University.

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