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Spectrum Assets and Capabilities

Virginia Tech offers research, instructional, and partnership opportunities using radio frequency spectrum assets, administered through the Division of Information Technology.

The Virginia Tech Foundation has acquired Priority Access Licenses (PALs) for the newly available Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). CBRS is a 150-megahertz (MHz) range of radio frequencies (RF) located in the 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) band. This band of RF spectrum was previously reserved for military and satellite operations, until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened it to commercial and general users.  

Virginia Tech’s priority access licenses include four 10-MHz blocks in Montgomery County and another four 10-MHz blocks in Craig County. The licenses are held by Virginia Tech Technology Assets (VTTA), a subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Foundation, and will be administered by the Division of Information Technology. 

Virginia Tech’s priorities for use of this spectrum are as follows:

  1. Research and Education – The spectrum presents opportunities for a range of research from short-term experiments to longer-term demonstration projects for spectrum management, wireless communications, mobile systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), broadband “last mile,” and application areas such as telehealth, smart farming, and public safety. Many research areas and units across the university can benefit from access to this RF spectrum.
  2. Operations – CBRS can support private 4G LTE and, soon, 5G cellular services, which we expect to use on campus and, potentially, at other Virginia Tech locations in Montgomery County to support the operations and missions of the university.
  3. Partnerships – This asset provides opportunities to work with private and public entities to provide advanced communications services in Montgomery County and Craig County and, we hope, to accelerate broadband access in unserved and underserved areas in our region. 

For more information about the CBRS at Virginia Tech, or to inquire about using this spectrum space, please contact Jeff Crowder at crowder@vt.edu

You can learn more about the CBRS and the FCC's process for auctioning priority access licenses at the following links:

Virginia Tech’s Division of Information Technology has been granted a Program Experimental License by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This establishes an “umbrella” over the main campus in Blacksburg where the process for gaining individual experimental radio licenses can be significantly streamlined.

To request an experimental license for use on the main campus, individuals should register a request at the FCC’s Experiments Notification System website.

Licensees can apply for any frequencies they wish to use except for the particularly sensitive “restricted bands” listed in FCC rules Section 15.205(a). An applicant needing to operate in these bands can instead apply for a conventional experimental license. Most frequencies above 38.6 GHz are also available, despite their all being denominated as “restricted,” except for those allocated to radio astronomy and a few others. Special requirements apply to frequencies used for commercial mobile (cell, PCS, 3G, 4G, and more), emergency notifications, and public safety.

At least ten calendar days before each experiment, the licensee must post the following information on the FCC website:

  • a narrative statement describing the experiment, including measures to avoid causing harmful interference to any existing service licensee in the proposed band;
  • contact information for the researcher in charge of the experiment;
  • contact information for a “stop buzzer” point of contact – a person who can turn off the equipment if interference occurs;
  • technical details including frequency, power, bandwidth, modulation, location, number of units, etc.; and
  • for commercial mobile, emergency notification, and public safety frequencies, a list of potentially affected licensees.

Licensees in other services that fear interference from an experimental operation are expected to contact the experimental licensee with their concerns. Only the FCC can stop the experiment from proceeding, once the ten-day notice period has elapsed. Experiments that use federal (or shared federal-private spectrum) may need longer than ten days for coordination.

For program rules or more information, contact Jeff Crowder at crowder@vt.edu.

Below are some frequently asked questions about Virginia Tech's acquisition of priority access licenses (PALs) for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, answered by Scott Midkiff, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at Virginia Tech. 

The Virginia Tech Foundation won eight blocks in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction.

Four blocks are in Montgomery County, VA, where our main campus in Blacksburg and the university's large research farm are located, and an additional four blocks are in Craig County, VA, a rural county that is adjacent to Montgomery County.

Our plans are still being developed. Our drivers for purchasing CBRS Priority Access Licenses are as follows:

  1. Research and Education – The spectrum presents opportunities for a range of research from short-term experiments to longer-term demonstration projects for spectrum management, wireless communications, mobile systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), broadband “last mile,” and application areas such as telehealth, smart farming, and public safety. There are clearly connections to research and projects in Wireless@VT (a Virginia Tech research center) and the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (a statewide initiative led by Virginia Tech) and its work in 5G.  I am confident that there are other research areas and units across the university that can benefit from access to this RF spectrum.
  2. Operations – We will look to utilize CBRS to support private 4G LTE and, in time, 5G cellular services for use on campus and, potentially, at other Virginia Tech locations in Montgomery County to support the operations and missions of the university.
  3. Partnerships – This asset provides opportunities to work with private and public entities to provide advanced communications services in Montgomery County and Craig County and, we hope, to accelerate broadband access in unserved and underserved areas in our region.

Our first use is likely to be a private LTE network, specifically to offer connectivity for Internet of Things use cases including sensors, energy management, security cameras, etc. A university campus is much like a small city and there are many applications where controlled, low-latency, and secure connectivity can be used for smart city/smart campus applications.

We do expect faculty and students to be able to leverage the spectrum. Faculty and graduate and undergraduate students working with them will have opportunities to use the spectrum for both education and research, especially in areas like spectrum management, mobile networks, Internet of Things, smart cities, and smart farming. We hope to have ways to quickly deploy test beds for both research and hands-on instruction. Students, faculty, and other employees will also use the spectrum indirectly as part of a smart campus.

Depending on the case, general authorized access (GAA) may be used for some use cases on our campus in Montgomery County. Virginia Tech also has a presence in Roanoke, VA for health sciences and technology and in the Washington, DC area, with graduate programs in Falls Church, VA, a research center in Arlington County, VA, and a new Innovation Campus in Alexandria, VA. We also have agriculture research centers around the state. GAA offers opportunities to also leverage CBRS at these locations where we do not own PAL licenses.