Amateur Radio and the Growth of the Spectrum Workforce in the US National Spectrum Strategy

Zero Retries is an independent newsletter by Steve Stroh N8GNJ that promotes technological innovation that is occurring in Amateur Radio, and Amateur Radio as (literally) a license to experiment with and learn about radio technology.

What follows are excerpts from the [Biden-Harris Administration] National Spectrum Strategy (NSS), which was published 2023-11-13, and the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)’s 2024 Spectrum Policy Symposium, which was held 2024-02-01 that are relevant to US Amateur Radio and the mission of Zero Retries… and the perspective of Zero Retries Editor Steve Stroh N8GNJ.

As such, the following may provide an incomplete perspective of the totality of the NSS and the information and perspectives provided at the 2024 Spectrum Symposium. Thus, links to the NSS and the Symposium video recordings are provided for those that wish to “dive deeper” than this focused perspective.


Image courtesy of NTIA


President Biden has called radio frequency spectrum one of “our Nation’s most important national resources.” To promote innovation and U.S. leadership in wireless technologies, the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to careful planning and cooperation among government agencies and the private sector. As required by the Presidential Memorandum titled Modernizing United States Spectrum Policy and Establishing a National Spectrum Strategy, the Secretary of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), prepared this National Spectrum Strategy to both promote private-sector innovation and further the missions of federal departments and agencies, submitting it to the President through the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Strategy reflects collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), recognizing the FCC’s unique responsibilities with respect to non-Federal uses of spectrum, and coordination with other Federal departments and agencies (referred to collectively here as “agencies”). In carrying out this task, NTIA conducted extensive public outreach through a request for comment, two public listening sessions, two Tribal Nation consultations, and one-on-one meetings with stakeholders. NTIA has made this information, as well as supplemental comments filed by stakeholders, publicly available. NTIA also sought and received written comments and guidance from Federal agencies and hosted a Government-only listening session to gather additional feedback.

The result is a comprehensive strategy to modernize spectrum policy and make the most efficient use possible of this vital national resource to enhance the quality of life for all Americans. This Strategy will expand access to advanced wireless broadband networks and technologies, whether terrestrial-, airspace-, satellite- or space-based, for all Americans. And it will drive technological innovation (including innovative spectrum sharing technologies); boost U.S. industrial competitiveness; protect the security of the American people; foster scientific advancements; promote digital equity and inclusion; and maintain U.S. leadership in global markets for wireless equipment and services, as well as innovative spectrum-sharing technologies—all essential priorities for the Biden-Harris Administration.

There are four “Pillars” of the National Spectrum Strategy:

  • Pillar One - A Spectrum Pipeline to Ensure U.S. Leadership in Advanced and Emerging Technologies

  • Pillar Two - Collaborative Long-Term Planning to Support the Nation’s Evolving Spectrum Needs

  • Pillar Three - Unprecedented Spectrum Innovation, Access, and Management through Technology Development

  • Pillar Four - Expanded Spectrum Expertise and Elevated National Awareness

Expanded description of Pillar Four:

Pillar Four | Expanded Spectrum Expertise and Elevated National Awareness

Preparing a well-trained U.S. workforce is essential to the policy proposals, potential investments in technologies, and research initiatives described in this Strategy. All stakeholders, including industry, academia, state, local and Tribal governments, as well as the Federal Government, must have a spectrum workforce with the necessary skills to work across current and emerging technologies.

We must also prepare the spectrum workforce of the next generation for a globally competitive environment where innovation is a key to successful national economic growth and spectrum access in support of critical Federal missions. We are committed to a diverse, broad-based workforce that enables the United States to maintain its global leadership.

Within Pillar Four are three Strategic Objectives:

  • Strategic Objective 4.1 | Attract, train, and grow the current and next-generation spectrum workforce.

  • Strategic Objective 4.2 | Improve policymakers’ understanding of spectrum considerations.

  • Strategic Objective 4.3 | Improve the public’s understanding of radio frequency spectrum and raise awareness of its role in everyday life.

Relevance of Pillar Four of the National Spectrum Strategy to US Amateur Radio

The discussion of Pillar 4 of the [Biden-Harris Administration] National Spectrum Strategy…

Pillar 4 Panel Discussion: Growth of the Spectrum Workforce, Increased Understanding of spectrum, and Raised Awareness of spectrum’s Importance to the Country

… directly relates to the utility, and perhaps the importance of Amateur Radio - if the need for rapidly growing the “Spectrum Workforce” is truly considered important and urgent.)

The concept of “growing the “Spectrum Workforce” is enshrined into US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Regulation § 97.1 - Basis and purpose:

The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.

(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.

(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Note particularly (b), (c), and (d).

It’s understated and often overlooked, but note this key phrase, with relevance to the discussion of “Pillar 4 of the NSS”:

… a voluntary noncommercial communication service

Individuals become involved in Amateur Radio (and related radio technology hobby activities) purely on a voluntary basis, out of interest in radio technology (and other facets of Amateur Radio). Often, involvement in Amateur Radio evolves from exposure to STEM - Science / Technology / Engineering / Math subjects, either from personal interest, or exposure during formal education. Individuals must study technical subjects to pass an Amateur Radio examination, must understand and uphold their responsibilities as licensed Amateur Radio Operators, and must even pay a modest fee to the FCC to obtain and renew their Amateur Radio License.

After obtaining one’s Amateur Radio license, there is the expense of purchasing and operating Amateur Radio equipment (station) and other costs to participate in Amateur Radio activities such as paying dues to Amateur Radio clubs, and fees to travel to and attend Amateur Radio conferences.

In short, Amateur Radio Operators undergo considerable commitment to being Amateur Radio Operators. Voluntarily, and at some expense, self-educate themselves on subjects of radio technology.

Thus Amateur Radio Operators are ideal candidates for inclusion into the “Spectrum Workforce as explained in Strategic Objective 4.1:

Preparing a well-trained U.S. workforce is essential to the policy proposals, potential investments in technologies, and research initiatives described in this Strategy. All stakeholders, including industry, academia, state, local and Tribal governments, as well as the Federal Government, must have a spectrum workforce with the necessary skills to work across current and emerging technologies.

We must also prepare the spectrum workforce of the next generation for a globally competitive environment where innovation is a key to successful national economic growth and spectrum access in support of critical Federal missions.

and …

Attract, train, and grow the current and next- generation spectrum workforce.

A well-trained workforce that can fill critical spectrum-related jobs across all relevant sectors is essential to ensuring that the spectrum ecosystem remains effective, efficient, and responsive to the evolving needs of the wireless ecosystem and society at large.

Yet… despite the obvious synergy of US Amateur Radio Operators voluntarily training themselves on radio technology…

There is no mention… whatsoever… or even a hint, vague reference, etc. to the existence of Amateur Radio in the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Spectrum Strategy (NSS). That, despite the Amateur Radio Service being one of the radio services administered by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the FCC’s involvement in the creation of the NSS:

The Strategy reflects collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), recognizing the FCC’s unique responsibilities with respect to non-Federal uses of spectrum, and coordination with other Federal departments and agencies (referred to collectively here as “agencies”).

The potential of Amateur Radio to accelerate the stated goals of Pillar 4, notably Strategic Objective 4.1:

Attract, train, and grow the current and next-generation spectrum workforce.

and Strategic Objective 4.3:

Improve the public’s understanding of radio frequency spectrum and raise awareness of its role in everyday life.

… seems to have been overlooked, or ignored, or simply unknown. But …

Who… better???… to help realize these goals than US Amateur Radio Operators?

I have tried to make the case in Zero Retries that the “Spectrum Workforce crisis” (using the verbiage of the National Spectrum Strategy) is very real. That crisis is that much of the radio technology in the US such as mobile telephones, satellite communications and navigation, Wi-Fi, etc. that are now an integral, inseparable… part of our daily lives as a technological society, is increasingly developed and manufactured outside the US. Without a sufficiently large, well-qualified “Spectrum Workforce”, the US is at a significant disadvantage in its use of radio technology developed in other countries… some of which are openly hostile to the US.

Background - 2024 NTIA Spectrum Policy Symposium

Image courtesy of NTIA

Implementing the National Spectrum Strategy

The 2024 NTIA Spectrum Symposium is focused on implementing the National Spectrum Strategy (NSS), which the White House released on Nov. 13, 2023, along with a presidential memorandum on “Modernizing United States Spectrum Policy and Establishing a National Spectrum Strategy.”

NTIA’s sixth annual Spectrum Policy Symposium took place at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on February 1, 2024. The Symposium, a hallmark event showcasing the Commerce Department’s leadership in national spectrum policy and management, has served as the chief forum for the Executive Branch to assess current technology and policy trends in key markets for wireless goods and services, including for 5G broadband, satellite communications, and Unmanned Aviation Systems (UAS). The Symposium provides a forum for NTIA, with our federal partners, to advance the nation’s goals for spectrum policy, and to obtain input from non-government stakeholders. The Symposium will presage the release of an NSS Implementation Plan in mid-March.

The event included keynote speeches by key policy-makers from the White House, the Department of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission. Keynote Speeches and Panel Discussions focused on implementation of the four "pillars" of the National Spectrum Strategy, how they can be implemented by the Administration, and the National Spectrum Strategy’s impact on spectrum management coordination and national spectrum policies.

Transcript of 2024 NTIA Spectrum Policy Symposium, Panel Session - Pillar Four - Growth of the Spectrum Workforce

The following transcript was assembled from the very rough machine translation provided by the video recording of YouTube:

I also used the recording in editing the transcription:

Note that such translations attempt to do verbatim audio to text transcription, with no formatting (or punctuation), but the resulting text is barely readable.

To create the following transcript, I edited out almost all of “ums”, “I mean”s, repeated words from the participants statements, formatted the discussions into sentences and paragraphs, added punctuation, and added conjunctions create a readable transcription of the discussion. None of my editing is an attempt to shape the “meaning” of each participant’s statements.

Pillar 4 Panel Discussion: Growth of the Spectrum Workforce, Increased Understanding of spectrum, and Raised Awareness of Spectrum’s Importance to the Country

The Strategy has identified a clear vision for raising the profile of spectrum as a career field and for greater awareness by Congress, policymakers and the general public. The call is for ambitious education and workforce development goals, including the creation of a National Spectrum Workforce Plan.

Pillar 4 Panel. L-R: Murphy, Balanga, Genco, Laneman, and Karn - Image courtesy of Internet Archive scene capture

Panel Participants

Panel Moderator:

Panelists (in order from Moderator):

Introductory Statements - Raising Public Awareness of the Value of Spectrum


First off I just want to thank our panelists for joining us here today and I want to thank those of you here in the room and watching online. We're here today to talk about pillar four the National Spectrum Strategy which is focused on growing our spectrum workforce raising awareness and understanding about this critical resource.

You've heard a lot today about the need for more spectrum by both the federal government and the private sector and I hope it's clear that we're seeing a lot of demand from all parties. As the private sector is increasingly relying on spectrum to develop new products and services, federal agencies are using spectrum in new and innovative ways to advance their missions as well. Through the other pillars of the strategy we're working to find a way to ensure that we have the spectrum resources to do both. This panel and this pillar of the strategy is really focused on the question of how we ensure that we have the workforce and the talent to make use of this spectrum and these new opportunities

How do we raise public awareness about how important this resource is and how important it increasingly is becoming, and then ultimately an understanding by policymakers about what this stuff is that we're talking about here and why it's so valuable, and ultimately how we make good decisions about how we use now and in the future as we're thinking about how we allocate it. We've got an excellent panel of folks here who spent much of their lives thinking about these issues and working on solutions.

First off we've got RJ Balanga; he serves as Deputy Director at the Spectrum and Policy Planning Division at NASA Headquarters. RJ joined NASA in November 2015 and currently serves as Principal Advisor to the Spectrum Policy and Planning Director. He also leads various NASA strategic initiatives focused on spectrum professional education and outreach initiatives.

Next we have Dr. Sheryl Genco, Vice President of Advanced Technology at Ericsson. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the National Spectrum Consortium. Sheryl was also the Laboratory Director at NTIA's Institute for Telecommunication Sciences in Boulder and is a former colleague. Her contributions have been at the forefront of critical technology areas impacting federal and commercial programs including spectrum efficiency, sharing, auctions, 5G, broadband satellite communications, unmanned aviation systems, and radio sciences.

Next we've got Dr. Nick Laneman, the founding director of SpectrumX, an NSF Spectrum Innovation Center and co-director of the Wireless Institute in the College of Engineering, and a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. He joined the faculty in 2002 shortly after earning his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT. His research areas include Wireless System Design, Radio Spectrum Access, Technology Standards, Intellectual Property, and Regulatory Policy.

Finally we have Phil Karn. Phil is past President and current Director of [Amateur] Radio Digital Communications, Inc. He was a radio amateur in high school and this was central to his pursuit of Electrical Engineering degrees at Cornell and CMU and a career and applied research at Bell Labs, Bell Communications Research, and Qualcomm where he made pioneering contributions to digital radio communications. He's retired but remains incredibly active in Amateur Radio, at ARDC, by mentoring local high school radio clubs, and by writing and distributing open source software including multi channel software defined radio. [His] amateur radio call sign is KA9Q.

We have a really amazing panel for you and I think it's going to be a really interesting discussion. I'm going to ask a question to all the panelists. We're going to sort of go down the line. Spectrum is the driving force behind so many of the technologies and innovations that we rely on every day, from 5G to Wi-Fi to weather prediction and GPS. It's a resource that's very heavily used by both the federal government and the private sector and it's something people take for granted and don't really understand. I've been working in this space for a long time and my wife still doesn't understand what I do. I think one of the strategic objectives of Pillar Four of the National Spectrum Strategy is to improve the public understanding about what spectrum's role is in everyday life, to tell that story. Why did each of your organizations care so much about spectrum and how does telling that story help you educate and engage the public?

RJ, how does NASA view this?


Well first of all Phil, thank you for having me. It's great to be on this panel especially now that there is inclusion of this workforce development pillar onto that national level. From a NASA standpoint, at NASA we do a lot of things for utilizing wireless spectrum, from space and human space flight, science, and the one thing you can't forget is the first “A” in NASA is the aeronautic side of things. Not only [do] our missions and science projects help with the understanding of our planet, the way we do business, and space and the celestial bodies. We are an organization that's always been developing emerging technologies and we use those emerging technologies. We put them out into the public domain as spin-offs and then the public utilizes them for everyday uses for other things.

Much of what NASA does for the human race is tied to spectrum. You know, human spaceflight, satellite communication and navigation, observing the Earth and of course science. You know I think it's unfair that I go first here because storytelling is easy for NASA. You know the NASA brand, the NASA product, the NASA logo is very recognizable and it's global. So everybody wants to listen to NASA. They want to hear, they want to engage, but to take that piece back, it's part of that storytelling. How do we say, in our words, in our narratives, to tie in spectrum? The use of spectrum, the necessity of spectrum, the criticality of spectrum. Engaging with those who are not familiar with spectrum and get them interested and learning more about spectrum. So, thank you.


Hi everybody. So while NASA has the NASA cachet, Ericsson brings you all your cat videos. So right now I am with Ericsson. I'm the Vice President of Advanced Technology and what I bring to Ericsson is my absolute love for knowledge, absolute love for continuous learning, and for engineering.

As an Electrical Engineer, you know I can geek out with the best of ‘em and as a lot of you in this room know that's really where I sit - in that Innovation space that some of our guests were speaking about earlier today. So as far as Ericsson goes, Ericsson's a hardcore engineering company. I have never been surrounded by so many really deep technical people in my life. It's been really very exciting to be there. They really embrace everything that spectrum has to offer from Ericsson’s standpoint. What they also do is, Ericsson and myself, they allow this whole idea of continuous learning, this whole idea of getting the word out, this whole idea of having a technical leadership around important areas such as spectrum.

You know “Coop” [Charles Cooper?] is probably the coolest cat in the room because of spectrum, right? So there's a number of pieces I think we're going to get to. As far as how I personally support our workforce development, I must say that that's really one of the best parts of my job is in all the workforce development activities and my passion that I have for STEM education. Just last year RJ and I probably talked for about an hour about STEM education and I'm always on Nick's back about sending me some more Electrical Engineers. With that I'm going to turn it over to Nick and we'll have more of a conversation about other ways that we use spectrum and educate the community.


Thank you Sheryl. It's good to have you on my back. I was a little hesitant when RJ brought up NASA's brand. I don't know if I should bring up Notre Dame's brand - there's probably the go-to of Notre Dame football but I guess I do want to stress that Notre Dame's mission is to be a force for good in the world. That phrase “force for good” was brought up earlier today and it really resonates. As Phil said I have two hats; I do teaching and research as a faculty member at Notre Dame and I help lead a wireless center that focuses on research and teaching there. I also am leading the NSF SpectrumX Innovation Center and that involves thirty universities. At these thirty member institutions, mostly universities, what we're trying to do is create opportunities for students and faculty and increasingly public scholarship being able to contribute to this ecosystem and help address problems. And, along the way, train our students and create opportunities for those students. There's tremendous work that needs to be done and it's very exciting and increasingly the faculty are starting to see that there's more that they can learn themselves. We're developing the faculty expertise along the way because of this broad set of exciting uses around the radio spectrum. I'll pause there.


Okay, I wanted to say that basically that Amateur Radio which probably most of you have heard of, it's thought of as a nominally recreational service. People go in as a hobby and you could think of it as a National Park System to the airwaves. But, it's doing much more than that. I see it fundamentally, having been involved in it for 52 years now, as an educational system. It's much more informal than you might think of as going to school, although it's often worked into school programs as well.

But it's a type of education that involves very hands-on intuitive learning that is really almost impossible to get in any other way. In fact I've interviewed probably hundreds of candidates to become colleagues, engineers in my career and one of the things I always looked for was a ham radio license. Of course that was especially true at Qualcomm since we did radio. But people who came in as hams, especially the students… I mean they had just a different take on things. They had a much more intuitive understanding because they had done this themselves. They had learned through Amateur Radio and we were rarely disappointed. Several of Qualcomm's founders were radio hams and they also had what I would consider a very intuitive understanding, especially things like propagation.

I heard in an earlier panel session that we needed to know more about propagation. Well, hams have been intensely interested in propagation since the service was created. Hams also talk to each other; we coordinate. Believe me if I get on the air and I transmit something that interferes, I will hear about it. So, I was surprised to hear that there was a problem in some other services about coordination during some of the spectrum sharing. So Amateur Radio, while it’s nominally a hobby, most people think of it that way, it really is an educational service and I think that's why it needs to be protected and [prepared?].

It has small allocations all the way from the low frequency band up through the millimeter wave band which as you know have vastly different properties and propagation characteristics. That encourages experimentation and familiarization with all of them. Not only does it help people to learn, it brings many of them into STEM fields, specifically Electrical Engineering. I'm an example; my own fascination with ham radio began during the Apollo program which I guess dates me. I was fascinated by the fact that it took a major national effort to send two men to the moon but that I, as an individual, could put up an antenna and hear them. One ham actually received Neil Armstrong's backpack transmitter during his moonwalk. He received it directly without even going through the relay system. To me that was just mind-blowing that an individual could do that and I just got fascinated. From there I went and got EE degrees and I went into my career starting at Bell Labs in applied research. All through this I was basically living… my whole life was basically communications, both the amateur side, my hobby side, and my professional life.

One of the things I want to say about ham radio when it comes to technical experimentation is we often do things before anybody else is interested. A good example of that is that in the mid 80s I wrote an Internet Protocol package for the PC. As far as I know it's the first one that was a complete implementation and we were running the internet protocols over radio in the 1980s when nobody else was interested. Nobody else could even see any use for this. It's hard to believe now but that really was true. Because I did that I got the attention of some of the guys at Qualcomm, specifically the hams, and they brought me out there. I started marrying this technology with their CDMA digital technology that they were developing in the mid 90s. Even there I had a hard time selling everybody why would you want to carry a fax machine down the street to send data. That didn't make sense to anybody but I think I won out in the end. I think I showed that there was a use for this.

That's another thing about ham radio I think is fascinating is that we do stuff simply because it's fun and that's often long before anybody has any thought of doing commercial use of this stuff. As far as I know the only other people doing this at that time were the military and doing it with extremely expensive hardware. We were doing it with something we could afford as individuals. So not only did we experiment, we innovate, and we educate. I think we also innovate and often very early… much earlier you might think.

Discussion: How Do We Grow the “Spectrum Workforce”?


So another strategic objective of Pillar Four is really to attract, train, and grow that next generation Spectrum Workforce. RJ, NASA’s really leading the way within the federal government in terms of education outreach, training and this is really a passion of yours. How is it critical to NASA's goals for exploration and discovery to have a world leading workforce in spectrum related fields, and what are the initiatives that you guys have launched to achieve those?


Thanks Phil. First of all I just want to say thank you to my leadership. Without leadership and without their advocacy, without their investments, none of what we've been doing in SPEARS - that's Spectrum Education Awareness… I'll talk a little bit more about that - one of our initiatives… would not be possible. That's one of the things that we need to do as we progress Pillar Four is obtain the advocacy, all the way from our leadership within our agencies but also across the federal government. We need to start talking and collaborating like we do on spectrum issues and spectrum challenges every day, but this is just another challenge. It's a spectrum workforce gap. One of NASA's goals is to support the National Space Council and their priorities. Within the National Space Council, one of their priorities and one of their goals is to ensure and sustain US leadership in space.

When I look at that, when I read that, and I interpret that, that's not only US leadership in space, that's not just NASA but that's our brothers and sisters in the federal agency NOAA, the DOD, as well as our commercial partners. But it doesn't stop there, it's global. We work in tandem and we collaborate with a lot of international spectrum partners. When we continue that leadership in space and marrying that up with education and trying to ensure that the US is leading that forefront, we are outreaching to those domestic partners as well as international partners. We've been working with some countries like Germany and Nigeria because they just don't have the mechanisms already in place to educate new workforce.

On that same token there's emerging countries out there, from developing nations as well, that are also coming in and want to be involved in that space race, so we are also helping them to educate their workforce with processes and just basic understanding of the technical. One of the other things that we want to ensure with all of this, going back to the initiatives question that you had, we started SPEARS, the Spectrum Education Awareness investigations back in 2018. We've been implementing activities from 2019 until now. We're on phase two of our work efforts there and we're looking at a four phase approach when we first stood this up. It's to educate our spectrum professionals, that's one. Then also our spectrum user community, two. The other, number three, is our spectrum partners and collaborators. Not everybody knows about space, not everyone knows about science, so we have to educate them as well - how we do business. Then of course the fourth pillar there is reach out like what Sheryl and Nick are doing. It’s engaging that STEM community; we have to create that interest into spectrum so we can have a robust pipeline of folks coming in. There's a whole bunch of other different stories behind that, or challenges. One is educating and creating and generating that interest, but then it's that pipeline. How do we ensure that there are positions for these younger generations to come in and fulfill.


It's a great point and I think we see a lot of need on the federal side. Sheryl, you've seen this issue from the federal side when you were a director at ITS but also now at Ericsson and other positions in the private sector. When you think about the fierce competitive challenges in selling radios and radio access networks globally, what steps is the wireless industry taking to recruit talent and make sure you have the human capital to be competitive?


That's a great question, so just a little bit more, I just want to just riff a little bit on what Phil said, I think we have to somehow make it fun because I'm in this because it's fun. I think it's fun to do things in the labs and I think that's how I got involved in it and we have to somehow make it all fun. I'm going to tell a little bit of a story and then I'll answer your question. During COVID my children came home and they were in college. I've donated two engineers to the world by the way. My one daughter was taking some courses with a professor and she started screaming “Mom you’ve got to come here and listen to this!” He started talking about NTIA, and I was at ITS at the time. I said “oh my goodness, what’s he saying?”. Well, he was very thoughtful. What he was saying was how in the past perhaps more non-technical folks were making a lot of the policy decisions and were having most of the input into the spectrum decisions and how going forward that spectrum is getting so crowded and it's getting so much more complex that we need more and more technical people.

With that you know of course reached out to Joseph (he's at Northeastern by the way) he's a great guy, a Terahertz guy, and we had this great conversation about how we can energize the people that he teaches, for example, at Northeastern, to get into spectrum and to go into these fields. So it's real for me, it's real on a lot of levels. What does Ericsson do? Well, Ericsson allows me to come here and speak to you all about these things as well as supports the National Spectrum Consortium on which I sit as an executive committee member. The last two years the National Spectrum Consortium and Ericsson and its membership of 400 some odd companies and universities have started a national scholarship for college age women in spectrum.

In the last two years we've awarded seven scholarships and have had one more fantastic recipient than the next, and all those interviews and whatnot are on the National Spectrum Consortium's YouTube channel. Suffice to say we're really trying to get those kinds of things in place. The last thing as far as Ericsson goes from soup to nuts and we have four centers of excellence where we do training and upskilling of workers to do tower climbing and to install the systems. It's a very technical part of the job as well as physical, because they have to have the microwave orientations, they have to understand how to do that, how to read various diagnostic equipment to put these things up. It's quite spectacular, these centers of excellence.

I just want to point to the fact that yes, STEM is super important, but not everybody has to be in front of a computer screen. There's a certain amount of STEM that happens out there in the wild as well. Finally in Ericsson we have our Texas smart factory where we have 5G [that’s] making 5G. It's super cool; you guys if you ever get a chance to see it it's really cool to see what we've done there because we've used industrial IOT technology. We use 5G technology, we were able to take a whole team of like five people who all came from Chipotle. Literally we got this one woman who's spectacular. First, we trained her up and then she said I know some other people that would love to come here and work and so there's this whole team, and they're like our best technical team in that factory, and they're spectacular.

So this whole idea of continuous learning, upskilling, supporting our engineers as they go through school and as they have opportunities to have internships is really a bunch of very important steps towards getting that workforce established for our country.


Do you encourage them to get their ham licenses?


You know that's funny because I used to have my own company and if they used to work on cars, I would hire them. So I had a similar thing but not the ham licenses.


It's an interesting idea - we're going to get into it in a little bit.

Nick, you know I think as an educator and running a research institution, getting people in spectrum can be challenging at universities particularly when there's a lot of competition for majors and getting students interested early on, particularly for something that's complex and esoteric in some respects like spectrum. How do you get folks interested? To Sheryl's point, how do you make it fun for them? You sort of mentioned getting your colleagues interested as well, people who maybe are working in a STEM field but not working on spectrum. It seems like SpectrumX sort of sits at the heart of that, trying to create those interdisciplinary connections, not just to bring people in, but also to kind of draw people together.


Thanks for the question. It's been an interesting journey. We've seen in the last 15 years or so a decline, generally speaking, in the interest in Electrical Engineering which is one of the foundations of RF and spectrum related work. So there's kind of an existential crisis in some sense to try to find ways to attract more students to Electrical Engineering in particular, but you know these related fields in general. The way that we've been approaching it is trying to better understand the why. Why is spectrum so important, and tell that story, before we teach the Fourier Transform, right? When I was a student, probably when many of us were students, we took the Signals and Systems class and learned all the math and did those problems. But, I had no sense of the many many many amazing applications of that concept and those technologies at the time. So we've kind of flipped the script. We start with the why, we talk about these different uses of spectrum, we talk about how important they are in society, and then that motivates diving deeper and developing the theory.

So that's one approach that we're doing, both in my class and and in our center and getting undergrads involved in research. Often we try to make sure that we identify opportunities for the students so what's the career trajectory, what's the pathway from taking the signals and systems class to being a spectrum leader. I think that's why, among many reasons, we appreciate what NASA's been doing in the SPEARS effort because it helps us characterize what the opportunities are in the federal government and more broadly around spectrum careers.

The other thing that we try to do is that I take the mindset that I'll do just about anything twice. We're exploring new ways of collaborating, through SpectrumX in particular, and we try to explore an opportunity, distill it, simplify it, and then make it attractive to other faculty; try to make it easy for other faculty to get involved. As an example of that, we're really grateful NTIA has invested in some collaborations between faculty and SpectrumX and folks in ITS and also the Office of Spectrum Management. I took the lead on just trying to rough that out and get it started. It was painful getting all the documentation in place getting a [create?] in place but it was well worth it. Now we have three more people taking on the role of a liaison working between SpectrumX and bringing other faculty in and working with NTIA. So being creative, looking for new ways to collaborate, breaking down barriers and silos. As hard as it is on the front end, it's worth it in the long term.


It's a great point.

Phil you're the Director of the Amateur Radio Digital Communications organization and it's really focused on empowering the future of Amateur Radio and digital communications and it seems like just in talking about this with you, there's a really big emphasis again on making this fun. I think you know as we're talking about with Nick, there's real competition for kids’ attention particularly between their screens and other kinds of things that are trying to capture their attention. How are you guys trying to get them engaged, and get them to keep coming back, and get them to potentially make this like a lifelong passion?


First, let me say that ARDC is Amateur Radio Digital Communications. It's a nonprofit foundation that we formed in 2019 and we endowed it with the sale of some surplus IP addresses that we got in the early 80s specifically to run TCP/IP, the Internet protocols over radio - my project, I totally came across that. We make grants of about $5 million a year and we make them spread across education, Research and Revelopment, and general R&D. We're new at this - we only started this in 2019 so we're still finding our way to find out what does what you're talking about. We put money into just straight scholarships, we put money into educational programs that are brought to us and described to us. We also try to fund R&D projects that are specifically ham related and are also open source. We will not fund anything that's proprietary; it has to be made open to the whole amateur community. We're still feeling our way around on that.

We sort of have an intuitive feel from having been a student myself, and most of the other directors having come from very similar backgrounds. We know that by making it fun, by getting them young, that's an important thing. I became a ham at 15, I think I was an old man by that time, there were a lot of hams I've known that were much younger than me, and just emphasizing a sense of fun. Kids learn best when they don't realize they're learning, right? I mean that's a cliche but it's true, right? Later on, I discovered when I went to school, for example, when I sat in a class on plasma physics that hey, this is how the ionosphere works! This actually makes sense to me now.

You were talking about sitting in Signals and Systems; I didn't have that experience. I knew what this stuff was all about. Having a ham license actually helped in my engineering education when I got that far, and of course the education filled a lot of holes. There's still a very good reason to go to school - it fills in a lot that you don't know. But it does instill this sense of fun early on. We would like to get them young because that's when kids are still very curious. Unfortunately, a lot of schools beat out of the kids, once they get older, is a sense of curiosity. We would really like to take advantage of that when we can.

Discussion: Engaging Females and Underserved Communities


I think it's a great point. It strikes me, Phil and Nick, that both of your organizations are really focused on engaging young people and getting them to engage in the subject matter and to think about this like an ongoing interest. But, as we think about the sort of pressures that you all have talked about, of the kind of spectrum workforce, and the need to really expand the pool, I'm kind of curious what your organizations are doing to engage women and girls and communities that are traditionally underserved.

I'm going to ask RJ and Sheryl the sort of same question, but for you guys I know your organizations have been working on this issue and it is a passion. As you're thinking about how do we solve this challenge and really, it seems to some extent like it's expanding the scope and trying to bring people in who've been potentially historically excluded.


We've given grants to some Indian tribes in remote areas; specifically they set Wi-Fi networks. It wasn't actually ham radio but it was Wi-Fi. We have given a grant to, for example, the Society of Women Engineers. We're looking around. We found a few minority scholarship funds but you know, as I said, we've only been at this for about four years. Ask us in a while; we might have a better idea, but we're looking for answers, we're looking for ideas. Oh, by the way, I should mention earlier that NASA and the Amateur Service have had a long, very productive partnership. Hams have been launching satellites since literally the early 60s. The first amateur satellites went… the cubesat concept which some of you may have heard about, that comes out of ham radio. We invented that, until it took off and eclipsed us. Then there is the space station - there was an amateur radio and the International Space Station project which has gone on now for quite some time and is really successful. Space just still excites kids that seems to be an unchanging fact. So space is just this wonderful way to get kids hooked. The first time I watched an ARISS contact in person and I saw the looks on these kids’ faces, you know when the astronauts talk back to them… I said we got to do this, we have to fund this. This is a really good idea, as simple as it seems. Just talking to an astronaut seems simple enough. It just gets these kids hooked in a way that I've never seen or rarely see anything else do. So little things like that, even if they may seem like gimmicks, you know to a kid they work. We’ve got to keep finding them.


There's some magic in NASA.


There's some magic, yeah.


Let me try to summarize some of the activities that SpectrumX is pursuing. Just to take a step back, as I said, we're thirty institutions across the country primarily focusing on interdisciplinary research, policy, outreach and engagement to try to have an impact in the spectrum ecosystem. But a very important part of our mission as this national center for spectrum research and spectrum innovation is education and workforce development. We've spent a fair amount of time… we're about two years into our grant from NSF, which we're very grateful for. But we spent about a year in a planning process as well, so we've been thinking about this problem for about three years and working on it. Because we're thirty institutions, we did not imagine that we could develop some kind of new degree program and have everybody agree to it. So what we've done instead is focus on developing courseware that can be reused at all of our institutions, and even more broadly. We're focusing on that at the middle school, high school level, at the undergraduate level. Then we've also got some introductory, interdisciplinary survey courses that we're developing at the Master's level. The idea is, again, raise awareness, build interest in the radio spectrum ecosystem as a whole. Because, that's really, I think one of the most attractive selling points to a young learner today is that if you develop a certain amount of expertise you've got job security because you have a lot of opportunities in this field. So we are developing that content in such a way… we're probably farthest along on the middle school high school materials. Twenty lessons have been published at this point and they're distributed through the STEM education community. They can be downloaded and applied by any middle school or high school teacher.

We even have resources to train the teachers on how to use those materials. I'm happy to give you pointers to that if you know if your child is at a school and you want to get them exposed. If you've got nieces and nephews that you want to get them exposed through their schools, we can put those teachers in touch with these materials. The other dimension that we're pretty far along on is with the Master's level and in that activity we're really engaging the community. We're trying to bring in key representatives from different organizations, one of whom is up here on the stage with me from NASA. We want them to tell the story of their mission and the systems they're deploying, the frequencies that are relevant… maybe hint at some of the interference or coexistence issues that are out there. But for the most part, just, again, building interest and awareness so that students can get excited about the field and want to go take follow-on courses where they go deeper.

Again that stuff is developing, we're planning on three courses, they will ultimately be posted on Coursera so that someone can obtain a specialization in this field. All of the content will be reusable at our respective institutions for their for-credit offerings as well. So those are some ways that we're trying to engage and develop new innovative materials for educational purposes. We've also got some programs focused on undergraduate collaborative research, again with industry and government. We've also got some citizen science projects lined up where students can obtain a low cost RTL-SDR sensor and start to learn about the radio spectrum and take measurements in a relatively low cost, low barrier entry kind of way.


I Iike the working direct with the teachers. That’s critical. My experience with high school clubs is you can't do anything without a motivated, involved teacher - really important.


Sheryl, I know this has been like a particular passion for you, getting kids not just involved in engineering, but STEM in general. I was curious how you see targeting kids for STEM as a pathway to get into these fields?


To say passion is an understatement. I've created a K8 math science charter school. Over 20,000 kids have gone through that K8 school already. I think it was Nick who said you got to get them early, right? You got to get them hooked early, you got to have fun… was it you Phil? It's one of these two. That was really something; that was two years of my life while my kids were eating peanut butter and ice pops. Nonetheless, I was so passionate about it and I'm so thankful that it's still there. I developed the curriculum, the scope, and sequence. It lives on in infamy, so to speak, but it's won all kinds of awards and I'm very thankful that public school is in existence.

I also want to say that these two guys didn't really answer your question, right? One of these things is not like the other up here, and that thing is me. I'm the only one up here who happens to be a woman, who happens to know what it's like to be a girl in engineering. I think if Monisha is still in the audience, she can attest to our fantastic reception at IEEE MILCOM last year. I had Dr. Monisha Ghosh and Dr. Mary [surname?] and myself on stage to welcome those recipients of the 2023 Women in Spectrum Scholarship. I think the power is in us women, speaking about our accomplishments, our patents, our technical work and that gets these other young people, whether they're girls or boys, men or women, excited about the field.

I know Minisha and Mary would also agree with me because we had quite the event. We had a 900 person standing ovation. If you want statistics about engineering and Electrical Engineering I have them all, and they're terrible. We have to do something as a country to get more Electrical Engineers in the pipeline and more Electrical Engineers who have actually taken Field Theory. The National Spectrum Consortium committee that picks the scholarship winners pretty much hates me because if a student doesn't have Field Theory on their transcript, I put them in the trash, because that is the intent of the scholarship. The intent of the scholarship is around strong Electrical Engineering people who understand spectrum, Field Theory, period. That's the intent of it. So those are some of the ways that I've personally been a proponent of that. But, I think overall our country needs to find new ways to get more and more people into Engineering, into STEM fields, into perhaps ancillary fields such as these centers of excellence that Ericsson has. As far as tower climbing and technicians they're all super important.

In Colorado, I am also on the Board of Directors for Colorado Labs [CO-LABS]. One of the things we all get together and talk about… there's industry, and the laboratory directors, and things, who talk about the need for really advanced technicians, really advanced folks who can help with all of the problems that we have building satellites, radios, etc. across the board. There are some unique programs out there. But it's a soup-to-nuts responsibility for all of us to get people interested in those fields and and really excited about it in some way. I don't know if that's answered your question, but for me it's a real lifelong passion and I want to thank Monisha.

As far as NSF goes, just one other thing. I had the luxury of being on stage at the Capitol building with Ponch[?] and what we were talking about was this very idea, because there is, through the US Chips and Science Act, one of the recipients is a consortium of colleges where all of the deans happen to be women Deans of Engineering. It's called EDGE Consortium. Ponch and I were on stage to talk about how do we encourage STEM, how do we encourage Engineering? This was funded through [the] Chips and Science Act because of the semiconductor aspects of it. I really want to thank NSF as well as all these other initiatives that you're doing, and others for supporting those very important concepts of getting people in there young [and] keeping them in engineering. How many of us who are engineering know about the weed out classes that first semester?

[It’s] so, so critical to that conversation with Ponch[?] was about internships. Open your companies, open your minds to having interns come in and really work. Every single one of the seven recipients of the NSC scholarships had some form of an internship - a research program, an internship, someone who took her under her belt… their belts, and really showed them what to do. To your point, gentlemen, that's where they got the excitement, that's where they decided to really stay in engineering. So really try to find those ways to have internships for students because that's really our future.


It's a great point and I think, beyond equity, it's about leveraging human capital. We need to find talent, we need to use talent, and particularly find people, and populations, that haven't really participated in these sectors of the economy. Because, that's where the real growth potential is.

RJ I know you this is also a real passion for you too.


My colleagues to my left, I totally agree with their initiatives. The STEM community has grown throughout the ages. We have recognized that, and I really applaud all the things that Sheryl and Manisha are doing - engagement with women into the STEM field and spectrum, raising that awareness. We need to leverage more on that. I'm not going to talk about that a little bit more, but being the only federal employee on the panel, I'll talk a little bit from a different lens. Trying to get women into Spectrum Engineering or Spectrum Management, into STEM, reaching out to the tribal communities. What kind of initiatives can we do to help that out? Through the recruitment phase, sometimes it's very difficult for somebody that doesn't know… they only know what they know. I really love working with the education system, developing curriculum, developing courses; that is widespread. You teach, you give an idea, you give a curriculum to the physics professors. Then, that way, that is outreached through [the] Education community down and outwards. But, also up and in, that will create those interests into those underserved areas and minority areas.

From a recruitment standpoint, unfortunately the pandemic has provided us… there is a silver lining [that] we have opportunities for remote work, we have opportunities for hybrid work environments, broader participation in forums such as this - those online watching. We need to also ensure that there is enough awareness in those communities that they listen to some of you… the symposium today… also leveraging some of the other initiatives. Sheryl and Nick and Phil already have talked about some of their initiatives. But, we are engaged, and I know NTIA is very engaged with the US Telecommunications and Training Institute. They're outreaching to developing nations on their spectrum needs. That's another insight, where we need to go there.

Overall, from a Federal government standpoint, we can't wait for those individuals to come to us. We need to be outreaching to them because, again, they only know what they know. If they don't know, we need to be more proactive, be more forward leading, and reaching out to those communities.


It's a great point. Part of the [National] Spectrum Strategy calls for the creation of a national Spectrum Workforce plan and its focus not just on training and recruiting of RF Engineers, but that full range of technical, operational, and policy positions that's needed to run robust spectrum programs.

RJ, at NASA you guys rely on spectrum for everything, right? We think about a rocket launch, and it's not just a pile of fuel with a capsule on top. There's enormous amount of spectrum that's used at every phase of the process. Keeping that satellite in orbit from your perspective, and your organizational perspective, why is it so important that we have a plan that's broad, that encompasses this really broad workforce that can fulfill a wide range of roles?


Great question. One of the things that we've recognized under SPEARS, and in our activities, is that spectrum has changed. The way we did spectrum 10, 15 years ago is not the same spectrum that we do today. We've made a paradigm shift from using spectrum management because it's either you have some technical management type skills or it's typically related to engineers. I like to call them spectrum professionals because that's more inclusive of some of the activities that we're pursuing. Under our current plan, the development of a national plan needs to be robust.

I'm going to try to hammer this a few times but the top three things that we engage with or we use under SPEARS. One, we educate. Two, we engage. Three, we outreach. In any community that we're talking to, whether it's engineers, whether it's lawyers, whether it's the young STEM community… kids in the community… the four target audiences that I talked about under SPEARS previously. We look at ways to educate, ways to engage, and ways to outreach. To be broad, again. and going back to the spectrum professional environment, we need technicians, we need the technical, we need those who know how to code. Maybe they're computer scientists; they need to do Matlab, they need to do calculus in programming to develop compatibility software. Beyond that, there’s the regulatory, the policy, and financial. With auctions going on and the spectrum relocation funds, you know you need to know how to budget a checkbook, and get those numbers over to you.

With that, under the spectrum professional environment, or a monitor, there's opportunities to also learn. You have to learn different types of things that you don't know that they learn. These individuals have their skills… disciplines… that they learn but we're also identifying what I like to call the power skills. Others call it soft skills, but power skills… we need to identify negotiation and diplomacy type skills. Getting to yes, especially in those international meetings. Then, crucial conversations, just to name a few, as an engineer myself coming up through this area. I go to a domestic regulatory, or go to an international meeting… Previously I'm not aware of these tools that are available. So we need to identify these tools and ensure that the Spectrum Professional community [has] access to these tools and and training modules as well.

Discussion: How to Help Policymakers Understand the Critical Nature of Spectrum


I think this kind of goes into the last strategic pillar of Pillar Four which is improving policymakers' understanding of spectrum. I'm a policymaker myself who's worked on spectrum and Capital Hill for many years. I appreciate how complex it is to try to understand these issues and grapple with some of these technical questions.

I think we're here before a bunch of policymakers. What message would you give folks to help them better understand this critical resource, the opportunity it presents? Because, increasingly, we're seeing, and the [National Spectrum] Strategy is a great example, that policymakers really are given a lot of choices. Sometimes people feel like it's a zero sum game, some people feel like it's an either / or. For you who here on the panel, where you've worked and innovated and created new solutions, sometimes it's not so black and white. Sometimes there's new solutions that people haven't thought about. I'd be curious, starting with Phil at the end, what you would say to policymakers here about that?


The first thing I'd say [is] look, this is not a zero sum game. There are often ways to cooperate. We heard this from a Qualcomm gentleman this morning, I guess not a coincidence… you’ve been saying this since I was there. Very often technology can solve the problem; not always, but very often. If you've got A and B and you’re competing over one piece of spectrum sometimes going to a different technology, doing things differently can let them both operate. I know when it comes to a policymaker, especially one who does not have a really deep strong technical background, they may not realize that it does not have to be a competition… well it's always going to be a competition… but there's often a way to give each side most of what they want.

That's probably the most important thing when it comes to spectrum allocations. I've seen these battles from one side… actually, I guess from two areas, through my job and through Amateur Radio for a long time. Very often these things turn into headbutting contest. They don't have to.


[I] totally agree with that.


I thought Phil was going to suggest that everyone should get a ham radio license.


I was going to sell my Ericsson stock if he did.


I guess my key message for policymakers would be “ask more of academia”. I think there's a growing collection of faculty who see this. Higher education is in a bit of a difficult spot these days depending upon how you look at things. Spectrum is an area where academics with some knowhow, either in Physics, or Electrical Engineering, or Computer Science, Political Science, Economics… they can contribute to the conversation. They can help distill some of the complexity, and it turns out that there's a collaboration going on between NSF, NTIA, and FCC to ensure that this thing called the Spectrum Innovation Initiative at NSF is successful. There's this thing called the National Spectrum Strategy that we get to work together collaboratively to try to structure these. Ask more of academia. Give me a call; I'll put you in touch with someone who might have the expertise you're looking for.


Which is why we did a listening session at SpectrumX while we were developing the Spectrum Strategy. I'll make a plug for you. Sheryl?


This is hard because now I'm in a public company, but when I was at NTIA it was really pretty interesting because we did have the occasions to be called in and talk to different committee members. That was really illuminating because after a while I would get calls as the quasi-CTO for NTIA running ITS. I would get calls about things like chips and quantum because I used to run a quantum development for Honeywell and it was really great because they reached out and had a resource that they trusted as part of NTIA. But, as a commercial person I try to speak truth; I try to give NTIA and FCC the best of our engineers and the best of our modelers whenever I can. [I] try to participate in the PAS[?] Initiative with DOD and NTIA. It's really hard as a commercial company because I think we're looked at as a commercial company with some suspect. Are you trying to sell something? What are you trying to give us? Whereas I personally always come at it from the purity of the science and the purity of the engineering. It's a difficult question for me.


It’s fair.


One of the other things that we've been doing apart from SPEARS… SPEARS was more reaching into what we do at NASA to develop our Spectrum Workforce… One of the things we initiated back in 2021 was also what we call the Spectrum Workforce Development Forum. That was a cross-agency cross-departmental effort to engage and take a look at what different organizations are doing, leverage on those so there's [the] least amount of duplication of effort, better investment, and better efficiency of taxpayers monies. Then, moving together collaboratively, it was done informally. We had such good partnerships in that. Everyone's interested, everyone knows and recognizes these challenges. They make their own free time even though their plates are already full. They came up and joined [the] Spectrum Workforce Development.

We have the opportunity now; it's epitomized here in the National Spectrum Strategy and I really want to thank Coop[?] and NTIA and your leadership for recognizing that this is a critical challenge, putting into the strategy there is no excuses going back. My one request to other policymakers out there - please provide the advocacy, please provide the critical investments in order for us to engage and create the activities to make Pillar Four a success for the National Spectrum Strategy. That will help invest into this current Spectrum Workforce and also the next generation of spectrum professionals.


I would just say [that] RJ was a real driving force behind this pillar so we definitely appreciate your leadership here.

Panelist Concluding Thoughts


Just to close out, I'd just like to give each of the panelists an opportunity to offer any final thoughts they have here. RJ why don't you go ahead.


We've been going at the NASA SPEARS for five years now. The Spectrum Workforce Development, going on three years. There's a lot of challenges… there's a lot of things. We worked with SpectrumX, we worked with a couple of folks from NSF as well. They try to do a brain mapping exercise of what Spectrum Professionals is. The gentleman got down… I think he spent about three months working on this… got down to a point where a big whiteboard was already full and he had barely scratched the surface of 10% of what Spectrum Professional is.

There's so much here; it's a lot to unpack, many many challenges. But, through the leaders that we have up here today, the leaders that we have out there and online, we need to start collaborating, working together, and start chopping and niching away at all these different challenges. Hopefully someone at NTIA that's developing the plan and executing the plan will be able to make sense out of all of this and make headway, identify the activities that are impactful, they're implementable, and they're very actionable.


Thank you. For me I think I would like to see everyone in the audience try to mentor one person. Whether you're an attorney, whether you're a policymaker, or an engineer; mentor one person and get one person excited about it because there's possibilities in spectrum, there's possibilities in STEM. Our nation's future really relies on our ability to stay at the forefront of technology and innovation. Quite frankly, some of the speakers this morning were talking about that. Dr. Propacar[?] was talking about that for sure, and I know Dr Ponch[?] really believes in that over at NSF. I would like to say that every one of us has a role to play in our workforce development. Every one of us has a way to get someone excited about spectrum, about engineering, about technician work, or about other adjunct professional careers that RJ was talking about. You know, I'm the one who laughed at the Megahertz joke this morning.

I don't know what that says about me, but at the same time, reach out to me, reach out to Dr. Gosch[?], reach out to Mary Sherga[?] at DARPA because we're here to really support underrepresented people, women especially, in these fields.

I know for my daughter's sake it's hard being in a class with a bunch of guys. It's hard being in the Robotics Club when there's a bunch of guys who mostly resemble the people on The Big Bang Theory. So please help people - I did. Anyway, help the next generation.


Just having fun with you Sheryl. She stole my line. I just wanted to say if you told me 15 years ago that I would be at this table, I wouldn't believe you. I became curious about spectrum and spectrum issues around the TV White Spaces era and I was fascinated that it wasn't just a technology problem. As a maybe prideful engineer, I thought yeah we should be able to solve that problem. It took years and it didn't really pan out from a technology point of view. Then there was a policy innovation. So I fell in love with the field and I've gotten pulled into it more and more over time. Mentoring is a big ask; I was going to suggest that everyone in the room and everyone online try to identify ten young people - roughly six middle school or high school kids, roughly three undergraduates and maybe a graduate student or even a faculty member and point them in the direction of the National Spectrum Strategy. Just nudge them, encourage them, maybe give them a little guidance, maybe mentor them. If enough of us do that we could have a thousand scholars like that.

I think that would be a big step in the direction of raising awareness, building interest, and pointing people into this direction of a number of career opportunities that will ultimately contribute in a very meaningful way to the success of our nation. Thank you.


I'll get it out up front - get a ham license, OK? That's that's a given, I don't want to say that again.


Can we take a test today?


If you like; I need three volunteer examiners. Seriously I do believe that Amateur Radio has a very big potential role to play here. That's why I was invited here. I don't think we're realizing anywhere near its potential. It's primarily educational, yeah, but even there I think we could do a lot more than we are doing. We need to involve more teachers, get more clubs started. Kids today have enormous demands on their time. They have many, many things going on and that is a challenge. It's bigger than when I was in high school, at least as I remember. But if you make it interesting enough for them they'll come back. We found… actually we were surprised… to find that about half of the kids who come back every week to our ham club meeting are female. All you have to do is make them feel welcome. Make it interesting, they'll come back and they'll keep coming back.

Getting their ham licenses; we fly balloons so every time a new student gets her ham license we put her callsign on the transmitter so when we launch it they'll be turn[?], that kind of thing. Little things like that actually matter. We're looking for more ideas. We would love to have suggestions on other things, other ways we could use the Amateur [Radio] Service to get young people involved. We're thinking about it all the time, but I'm sure there are some that we've missed.

But [also don’t] forget the potential of the ham service to contribute to direct experimentation with some of the problems you're talking about. In the Amateur [Radio] Service no one station owns a frequency. We have to sign every time we renew our licenses. It says no amateur station owns the frequency. We have to share, so we've already had to deal with these problems of spectral sharing, mutual interference, and dynamic allocation for a long time. I personally have gotten very interested in trying these out on the ham bands. In 1990 I came up with one of the techniques for dynamic spectrum sharing. [That] sounds an awful lot like what I've been hearing recently about where you get on and say “Hey I need to listen here for a certain period of time, please stay off that frequency.” I did this in 1990; I was doing it for ham radio. I didn't know… had no idea that anybody would do anything like that. Later it made its way into Wi-Fi; it’s one of the features of Wi-Fi.

So we do have potential not only for education I think but some small scale experimentation especially in the fields where apparently other people were having problems. I was surprised to hear about problems with communication between different groups who are sharing the spectrum or in going through the kinds of regulatory approvals you need to to operate a new waveform. Hams have a lot of regulatory flexibility as long as we stay within rules (one and a half kilowatts maximum power output), we have to stay in the band, stay in the bandwidth limits, [and] don't intentionally interfere with anybody. We can do pretty much what we want and that does seem to be a very big advantage of the ham service. So on a small scale and perhaps on an academic scale we can try some of these things and I'm certain we would be delighted if some of the results were useful to the larger spectrum sharing community. Because, we know, more than anybody, that the spectrum is limited. We see pressure on our spectrum all the time and we want to make ourselves… we want to justify what we have.


First of all I want to say thank you to the panel and thank you for sharing these insights with the folks here and online. I hope for people watching, you gain an appreciation for how important it is that we're not just addressing the spectrum pipeline, we're not just thinking about new technologies, and we're not just thinking about ways we can coordinate better. Ultimately there's this issue of human capital. How can we leverage talent and interest and fun to really create new opportunities to really drive this technology forward, and ultimately for the country to continue to succeed and lead the way.

I want to thank our panelists again for all of this and thank you all. Have a good one.

Links to Organizations and Programs Mentioned by Panelists

(In approximate order of mention.)

Editor’s Concluding Thoughts

I feel that the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Spectrum Strategy document and this “Pillar Four” panel discussion is a critical “wake up call” for US Amateur Radio to be seen as relevant in educational, vocational, and academic training in the US… and generally relevant in US society. Note that the panel discussion was narrowly focused on the subject of the use of radio technology (spectrum) and growing the base of those that are capable of developing and deploying radio technology. While STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) was mentioned organically and frequently in the panel discussion, if not for Phil Karn KA9Q’s participation on the panel, any discussion of US Amateur Radio would have been entirely absent.

US Amateur Radio owes a debt to Phil Karn KA9Q for substantively representing US Amateur Radio on this panel, and making a reasonable case that Amateur Radio can be an element of education, and fomenting interest in radio technology and thus contribute to the “Spectrum Workforce”.

US Amateur Radio also owes a debt to Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) for (presumably) sponsoring Karn’s presence on this panel discussion, as well as its ongoing grantmaking to advance Amateur Radio and related activities such as sponsoring scholarships and Research and Development.

While there was no mention of Amateur Radio’s potential for early education of the “Spectrum Workforce” in the National Spectrum Strategy, or mention of the ARRL during the panel discussion, ARRL posits:

Amateur Radio as Educational Tool Represented to Policymakers in Washington DC

that Amateur Radio spectrum not being identified for reallocation or additional sharing in the NSS was a result of significant behind-the-scenes work during the formation of the NSS. Thus US Amateur Radio owes a debt to ARRL for that work.

Future discussions of this topic will continue in Zero Retries newsletter, beginning with Zero Retries 0140, published on 2024-02-23. Earlier versions of the transcript appeared in Zero Retries 0138 (Part 1) and Zero Retires 0139 (Part 2).

This content is given into public domain. Steven K. Stroh (Editor) disclaims copyright claims for his unique portions of this document as the vast majority of the content of this document is from a US Federal Government document and conference, and such content is defacto public domain.

Steve Stroh
Amateur Radio Operator N8GNJ
Editor, Zero Retries Newsletter
2024-01-22 - Original
2024-01-23 - Updated Editor’s Concluding Thoughts with ARRL info.