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

What We Do

The Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) performs cutting-edge telecommunications research and engineering with both federal government and private sector partners. As its research and engineering laboratory, ITS supports NTIA by performing the research and engineering that enables the U.S. Government, national and international standards organizations, and many aspects of private industry to manage the radio spectrum and ensure that innovative, new technologies are recognized and effective. ITS also serves as a principal Federal resource for solving the telecommunications concerns of other Federal agencies, state and local Governments, private corporations and associations, and international organizations. The FY 2015 Technical Progress Report describes research performed in the past fiscal year.

From the Director: Lessons from ISART

The record number of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, policy experts and other participants representing government agencies, academic institutions and industry gathered at ISART 2016 really energized the conversation on spectrum forensics. We discussed many perspectives on this exciting new field of spectrum research aimed at providing novel insights on ways to address radio signal interference. Advances in this area promise to bring improvements to how spectrum is managed, in particular supporting efforts to efficiently and effectively accommodate the constantly increasing demand for use of this critical, limited, and already congested resource.

During a rich discussion on the technical aspects of identifying sources of interference and the policy and legal challenges of enforcement, the value of technical cooperation between users sharing spectrum to rapidly mitigate interference was repeatedly emphasized. Another important theme to emerge from the discussion was the inevitable rise in the “noise floor” — the measure of the unwanted signals — with so many more wireless devices in use.  In the past, spectrum users have focused on trying to eliminate such interference. Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, however, spoke of moving from the idea that interference can be eliminated to an understanding that receivers will have to begin to bear some responsibility for robustness and the management of noise in their environment.

Another theme was the need for rapid and reliable investigation into the impact of the proliferation of devices attempting to operate simultaneously in the same or adjacent bands, from both a scientific and a policy perspective. Panelists discussed not only how to predict aggregate interference from many devices and protect against it, but also who bears responsibility for it when it occurs. Finally, another common thread was the need to move forward collaboratively in order to keep up with the pace of technical evolution. Transparency, trust, honest brokers, and clear rules are prerequisites to real-time interference mitigation.

By the end of the symposium, it was clear that spectrum forensics is a broad, deep area that requires contributions from many different disciplines. While forensic science has a legal definition, specific courses of study, and certifications in many physical science disciplines, there is as yet no such structural framework for spectrum forensics — though ISART 2016 moved us a step closer to defining one. Many of the panelists and speakers presented maturing technologies that are important components of the spectrum forensics space. The challenge to the community for the future will be to integrate all the pieces into end-to-end systems that support spectrum monitoring, investigation, and enforcement.

ISART 2016 Attendance Hit 160

A record-breaking 160 attendees participated in ISART 2016, whose theme was Spectrum Forensics—spectrum measurements that support interference monitoring, investigation, and enforcement. For the second year, the symposium was sponsored by the Center for Advanced Communications, a joint effort with NIST. Patti Raush of ITS was the General Chair, and Eric Nelson of ITS co-chaired along with Michael Souryal and Tim Hall of NIST/CTL. To take advantage of potential synergies, several spectrum research related events were scheduled during the same week as ISART: CSMAC, the IEEE 802.22.3 project, WSRD, and the WInnForum Spectrum Sharing Committee Meeting all held meetings at the Boulder Labs this week. About 60 people attended the prequel tutorial on the Legal Process of Spectrum Forensics: Civil & Criminal Case Studies, moderated by Rebecca Dorch. Eric Nelson, Ken Baker, and Mike Cotton of ITS each moderated a panel, and ITS Director Keith Gremban delivered the closing remarks. Panelist presentations have been posted at 2016 ISART Speaker Slides.

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New Publications

This Month in ITS History

September 1954

On the morning of September 14th, 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first sitting president to visit Boulder, Colorado, when he dedicated the new Boulder Labs for the National Bureau of Standards. After a tour of the labs, President Eisenhower made a brief speech in front of the new Radio Building (Building 1—where ITS is still housed). "It seemed to me," he said, "as I went through (the Radio building) with Dr. Astin, that here we have a new type of frontier. This spot, only a few short decades ago was inhabited by Indians and by buffalo, and later, by trappers and miners. It became the center of a great mining and agricultural region, which has meant so much to the United States in the past – and indeed does now. But the frontier days when we could go out and discover new land – new wonders of geography and of nature – have seemed largely in the past. Here, today, inside the building, we have a frontier of possibly even greater romantic value, as well as greater material value to us, than were some of the discoveries of those days... It is my high privilege to dedicate this facility of the Bureau of Standards to the welfare of humanity – in America and throughout the world." Eisenhower then pushed a button to release a curtain and unveil the building's cornerstone, which is still visible on the north side of Building 1's front courtyard. The National Bureau of Standards no longer exists, but its child agencies NIST and ITS still occupy the Radio Building, exploring scientific frontiers.