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Smartphones on Radar Airwaves Proposed to Ease Mobile Jam

The U.S. will move to let civilian smartphones and tablet computers use wireless frequencies reserved for military radars to ease traffic jams in the nation’s airwaves.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said today he would ask fellow commissioners to approve the idea for a set of frequencies he called the “innovation band.”

“The FCC has to update the way we manage and allocate spectrum,” said Wheeler, a Democrat, speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He said a change toward airwaves sharing, rather than assigning frequencies for a single wireless carrier or other entity, would take effect within 18 months.

President Barack Obama has called for more frequencies for mobile devices as use of such gadgets as Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad has grown. A presidential advisory panel in 2012 called for letting devices use unoccupied spectrum including the frequencies identified by Wheeler today.

Wireless devices could share spectrum with military radar by avoiding operations in the same places or at the same times or by running at low power, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a part of the Commerce Department, said in a 2010 report.

The military radars are based on land, ships and aircraft, with land-based systems operating “a number” of coastal sites and test ranges, the NTIA said. Radar functions include sea surveillance, tracking of airborne objects, air traffic control and formation flight, the NTIA said.

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