Published: April 17, 2017


Prof. Peter Mathys (ECEE) and Eric Anderson (CU alum, PhD CS) on the roof of Folsom field with an antenna used by wireless research students and faculty to study wireless networking using phased array antennas.

The University of Colorado Boulder is one of only two academic institutions to contribute expertise, testing and refinements to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC's) newly-launched, experimental licensing system for wireless research. The online system, which helps qualified programs and researchers acquire experimental licenses in a matter of days rather than months, is the only one of its kind worldwide and clears the way for more innovative wireless research in the U.S.

The FCC, responsible for regulating radio frequency, grants more than 2,000 experimental licenses each year through its Office of Engineering and Technology. The experimental licensing program provides permission to broadcast experimental signals over the air and has been a driver of the development of innovative products and services for years. Many of the wireless services and technologies in use today were first tested under the experimental licensing program.

A number of CU Boulder researchers are currently working on projects under such experimental licenses, including experiments to improve indoor cell phone location ability to aid 911 responders, antenna-spacing work that aids in delivering data to cell phones faster and studies to improve the design of wireless equipment and networks. Across the country, many experimental licenses are currently supporting work on next-generation 5G services.

Until now, the system allowing researchers and other “qualified programs”—universities, research labs, health care facilities and manufacturers of radio frequency equipment—to attain the experimental licenses required time-consuming preparation of application materials that could delay researchers for as many as six months prior to starting experiments.

The time-intensive process has been extensively reimagined, in no small part due to the contributions of CU Boulder, as well as New York University, the second academic partner in this work. The innovative new system streamlines the application process, allowing qualifying programs to more quickly develop new technologies and services while ensuring a consistent, protected environment for already-broadcasting services.

“The FCC has turned this process on its head,” said Ken Baker, scholar-in-residence with the Interdisciplinary Telecom Program, College of Engineering and Applied Science. “Current licensed users can now see when a qualifying program is seeking access for experiments, and they have 10 days to object or resolve any conflicts. Most important to us, a faculty researcher can now get an experimental license to operate in as little as 10 days rather than the typical six month wait.”

Baker, the university’s liaison for this collaboration with the FCC, said wireless research teams can now quickly and efficiently obtain authorization to operate experimental systems in a timeframe matching the traditional academic calendar.

“Prior to this, project schedules had to be formed to accommodate significant downtime before data could be collected,” Baker said. “Decreasing these delays means that more data can be collected and more research can be accomplished.”