The Federal Communications Commission today issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on how to best utilize so-called “smart” radios, which are capable of adjusting their spectrum use in response to external factors.

Due to their innate intelligence, such radios can determine whether certain transmissions are permissible and determine the optimal frequencies to use in order to avoid interference. They often can interpret and transmit signals in different formats or modulation schemes. They are seen as a way of utilizing spectrum more efficiently, because they are able to identify and use vacant spectrum channels.

Smart radios also are seen as a solution to the interoperability issues that plague public-safety organizations, particularly first responders.

“Because they can use different frequencies and modulation techniques, smart radios could also translate signals between two different radio systems,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell in a statement. “This ability may enable more interoperability between public safety first responders so that, in an emergency, firefighters from one jurisdiction could more effectively communicate with firefighters from another jurisdiction.”

The FCC is seeking comment on how the commission can remove regulatory impediments in order to foster continued development and deployment of smart radios. Specifically, the commission wants input on whether it should allow licensed spectrum users to deploy smart radio in order to increase spectrum efficiency. The FCC also wants to know whether it should allow licensees to lease their spectrum access to third parties using the technology in order to open secondary markets.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said in a statement that the commission needed to make a better effort to “get spectrum into the hands of people who are ready and willing to use it.” He said smart radios could be a key factor in improving access to spectrum for providers that are willing to serve underserved areas.

“Spectrum is a finite public resource, and in order to improve our country’s use of it, we need to improve access to spectrum-based services, and this effort will facilitate that process,” Adelstein said.

The commission also seeks comment on ways smart radios can foster “opportunistic use” of spectrum by unlicensed devices, while protecting incumbents from harmful interference.

The Software-Defined Radio Forum responded enthusiastically to the order. “The SDR Forum applauds the commission’s continued effort to manage spectrum more efficiently through the use of advanced wireless technologies,” said Mike Chartier, chairman of the forum’s regulatory committee and director of regulatory policy for Intel’s Corporate Technology Group. “It is certainly clear that software-defined radio technology is playing a key role in this FCC initiative.”