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About CTL

NASCTN in action

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Communications Technology Laboratory (NIST CTL) was established in 2014 to unite NIST’s many wireless communications efforts into a unified research and development organization. Advanced communications are enabling dramatic changes in how consumers, manufacturers, governments and others consume information, transact business, provide and use essential services, and shop.  Industry analysts predict 29 billion connected devices globally by 2022, with U.S. wireless providers slated to invest $275 B in infrastructure that will add jobs and boost the economy.  

NIST's predecessor, the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) was doing radiofrequency measurements as early as 1911. Our radio science was critical to the operation of U.S. aircraft, communications and missiles during World War II. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated what’s now known as NIST Boulder Laboratories as NBS’s Central Radio Propagation Laboratory, a national research center for radio physics and radio engineering measurements, metrology and standards development.

Today's Focus

With expertise honed over decades of research in antennas and wireless propagation, materials science and electronics testing, as well as communications network protocols and standards, CTL serves as an independent, unbiased arbiter of trusted measurements and standards to government and industry. We focus on developing precision instrumentation and creating test protocols, models and simulation tools to enable a range of emerging wireless technologies. Driving much of our work is a spectrum crunch in historically coveted wireless bandwidths. Without a new generation of extremely high-speed, sophisticated wireless systems whose capabilities and limits we’re only beginning to understand, the spectrum crunch threatens to dampen the potential of wireless data applications as diverse as mobile video, wearable devices, and smart vehicles. 

Core Network Tech 2
Fundamental Electromagnetic Technologies & Standards
Next Generation Wireless Systems


Public Safety Communications
Smart Infrastructure & Manufacturing
Spectrum Sharing & Sensing
In addition, CTL is home to the National Advanced Spectrum and Communications Test Network (NASCTN). NASCTN provides a neutral forum for addressing spectrum-sharing challenges. NASCTN brings together participants from other federal agencies, including U.S. Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to develop robust test processes and validated measurement data necessary to develop, evaluate and deploy spectrum sharing technologies that can increase access to the spectrum by both Federal agencies and non-federal spectrum users. 

Strategic Plan 

The CTL strategic plan brings our future into focus with defined core values as a laboratory, actions to reach for the best versions of ourselves, and sets a course for how CTL will continue to rise to meet the future needs of our Nation. Our plan builds on our success from intentionally building a coalition of industry, academia, and other government agencies to bring forward the future of smartphones and public safety radios, wearable devices, the internet of things, the smart grid, smart homes, next-generation automotive technologies, and smart manufacturing. The CTL’s staff identified strengths to build on, challenges to meet, opportunities to seize, and emerging areas to explore.  We crafted an exciting roadmap forward with a clear vision through six research areas and 10 actions to implement intentional shifts in our workplace culture. 

Created September 17, 2015, Updated May 5, 2022