The need for spectrum and the impact on weather observations
July 1, 2021
One of the most significant challenges—and potential opportunities—for the scientific community is society's insatiable need for the radio spectrum. Wireless communication systems have profoundly impacted the world's economies and its inhabitants. Newer technological uses in telemedicine, Internet of Things, streaming services, intelligent transportation, etc., are driving the rapid development of 5G/6G (and beyond) wireless systems that demand ever-increasing bandwidth and performance. Without question, these wireless technologies provide an important benefit to society with the potential to mitigate the economic divide across the world. Fundamental science drives the development of future technologies and benefits society through an improved understanding of the world in which we live. Often, these studies require use of the radio spectrum, which can lead to an adversarial relationship between ever evolving technology commercialization and the quest for scientific understanding. Nowhere is this contention more acute than with atmospheric remote sensing and associated weather forecasts (Saltikoff et al. 2016; Witze 2019), which was the theme for the virtual Workshop on Spectrum Challenges and Opportunities for Weather Observations held in November 2020 and hosted by the University of Oklahoma. The workshop focused on spectrum challenges for remote sensing observations of the atmosphere, including active (e.g., weather radars, cloud radars) and passive (e.g., microwave imagers, radiometers) systems for both spaceborne and ground-based applications. These systems produce data that are crucial for weather forecasting—we chose to primarily limit the workshop scope to forecasts up to 14 days, although some observations (e.g., satellite) cover a broader range of temporal scales. Nearly 70 participants from the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia took part in a concentrated and intense discussion focused not only on current radio frequency interference (RFI) issues, but potential cooperative uses of the spectrum ("spectrum sharing"). Equally important to the workshop's international makeup, participants also represented different sectors of the community, including academia, industry, and government organizations. Given the importance of spectrum challenges to the future of scientific endeavor, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently began the Spectrum Innovation Initiative (SII) program, which has a goal to synergistically grow 5G/6G technologies with crucial scientific needs for spectrum as an integral part of the design process. The SII program will accomplish this goal in part through establishing the first nationwide institute focused on 5G/6G technologies and science. The University of California, San Diego (UCSD), is leading an effort to compete for NSF SII funding to establish the National Center for Wireless Spectrum Research. As key partners in this effort, the University of Oklahoma (OU) and The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) hosted this workshop to bring together intellectual leaders with a focus on impacts of the spectrum revolution on weather observations and numerical weather prediction.