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In order to perform reliable communications, a system needs to have sufficient information about its operational environment, such as spectral resources and propagation characteristics. Cognitive-radio technology has capabilities for acquiring accurate spectrum, location, and environmental information, due to its unique features such as spectrum, location, and environmental awareness. The goal of this paper is to give a comprehensive review of the implementation of these concepts. In addition, the dynamic nature of cognitive-radio systems - including dynamic spectrum utilization, transmission, the propagation channel, and reception - is discussed, along with performance limits, challenges, mitigation techniques, and open issues. The capabilities of cognitive-radio systems for accurate characterization of operational environments are emphasized. These are crucial for efficient communications, localization, and radar systems.