In recent years, spectrum management policy and regulation have evolved greatly to better reflect the demand and supply requirements new services and uses. There has been a shift from relying predominantly on the traditional model, most notably in countries where demand for radio spectrum use is rising fast. The main principles underpinning the spectrum management reform agenda are:
- Liberalization and flexibility;
- Technology and service neutrality; and
- Licensing reform including spectrum transfers and the spectrum commons.
For a more detailed discussion of these concepts see Section 3.2.3 Liberalization and the Impact on Authorization and Section 3.1 Introduction to Authorization.
In this section, we review several of the most important trends in spectrum management including:
- Growing Importance of Spectrum Use and Spectrum Management
- Convergence and Reform of the Institutional Framework
- Spectrum Trading and Transfers
- Increased value and use of Unlicensed Spectrum
- Spectrum Planning - Spectrum Demand and Supply Studies
Growing Importance of Spectrum Use and Spectrum Management
In establishing the European Union's first policy on the Spectrum Management Programme in 2010, telecommunication professionals recognized that radio spectrum is a key resource for essential sectors and services, including mobile, wireless broadband and satellite communications, television and radio broadcasting, transport, radiolocation, and applications such as alarm, remote controls, hearing aids, microphones, and medical equipment. Spectrum also supports public services such as security and safety services, including civil protection, and scientific activities, such as meteorology, Earth observation, radio astronomy and space research. Regulatory measures on spectrum therefore have economic, safety, health, public interest, cultural, scientific, social, environmental and technical implications.
The total volume of services which depend on radio spectrum availability is estimated to be worth at least €200 billion annually in Europe.
Convergence and Reform of the Institutional Framework
Regulatory institutional reform leading to the combination of telecommunications, broadcasting and spectrum regulators can help facilitate spectrum sharing. There are several examples of where this has occurred or is being considered:
- In Australia the Spectrum Management Agency, Australian Communications Authority and the Australian Broadcasting Authority were merged in several steps beginning in 1997 to create the Australian Communications and Media Authority;
- The Canadian Telecommunications Policy Review Panel Report recommended to the government that Industry Canada transfer its spectrum regulatory functions to the CRTC;
- The UK has recently set up such a combined regulator (Ofcom) which regulates broadcasting, (wireline and wireless) telecommunications and spectrum;
- In Germany, regulation of spectrum is combined with regulation of telecommunications (and of other infrastructures), but separate from regulation of broadcasting.
Spectrum Trading and Transfers
Spectrum transfers are generally understood to mean some form of lease or sublease arrangement, including features such as frequency assignment transferability or divisibility:
- Transferability - licences maybe transferred (disaggregated);
- Divisibility or divided (partitioned), subject to either approval or notification to the appropriate authority subject to service and technical restrictions. Since spectrum can be assigned nationally or on a regional/local basis, a given assignment can be partitioned and shared by users in different locations.
Increased value and use of Unlicensed Spectrum
A spectrum commons is part of the spectrum that is free from centralized control where anyone can transmit without a license. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as license-exempt or unlicensed spectrum.
In practice what is referred to as a spectrum commons can have varying degrees of management. Licence-exempt bands (e.g. the ISM bands) are an example of a spectrum commons with some management in terms of power restrictions on individual users as applied in the US under the FCC Part 15 rules. In Europe there is a further degree of control in that devices used for communication in these bands must conform to certain technology standards (e.g. ETSI approval). So far this approach has only been used in limited bands for short range applications. However, significant innovation has emerged in these bands (e.g. Wi-Fi), which have led some to call for more spectrum to be managed similarly.
Spectrum white spaces
Most radio and TV broadcast channels are separated by small amounts of unused channels called white space, which are used to limit interference between active channels. Technology companies and consumer advocates believe the use of this underutilized and unassigned spectrum could be used for new services such as BWA. Not surprisingly, TV broadcasters oppose allowing any unlicensed device to use white-space spectrum because, they argue, these devices would interfere with television broadcasts, potentially harming the federally mandated transition from analogue to digital TV service.
A very active debate is taking place in the US between the broadcasters and Internet content companies such as Google, who argue the white spaces can be used to extend the reach of broadband services to rural communities. On October 15, 2008, the Chairman of the FCC indicated that he supports the idea based on extensive field tests conducted by the FCC to establish the veracity of either claim and on November 4th - the FCC approved the development of wireless devices that can use "white space".
Spectrum Planning - Spectrum Demand and Supply Studies
Spectrum Managers are increasingly conducting comprehensive reviews to quantify current the future demand and supply for spectrum. These studies typically include determining what is authorized and where, as well as identifying what is currently being used.
The timing and publication of the spectrum demand study varies by regulator with forecasts that can span from two to five (and even beyond) in years. The results of spectrum demand studies and comparisons with the spectrum database illustrate potential areas of surplus or deficit spectrum that should be investigated and made transparent to users..
The published report provides background information on the current state of the spectrum, what is driving spectrum demand (consumer, commercial, government demand, new technologies, new services) as well as future trends and projections that the regulator should consider when planning spectrum use.
Spectrum Demand and Supply Studies: UK, USA and Thailand.
Ofcom and the UK Treasury Department obtain on a bi-annual basis from government departments independent studies of spectrum requirements - Supply and Demand Studies. The application of market prices using AIP has resulted in profound changes in the approach taken by departments, such as the Ministry of Defence (MOD), in the way spectrum is managed.
The MOD, as the single largest government user of spectrum in United Kingdom, has access to 30% of the spectrum between 100 MHz and 3.0 GHz. Its use is not exclusive – it administers civil applications and shares bands with other users
The most recent study was completed in early 2009 with the UK MOD conducting a forward view of spectrum demand covering 80% of its allocations (2010, 2015, 2027) in accordance with its agreement with Ofcom to perform such a review every 2 years. The study is both illustrative and instructive because:
- It shows the depth of analysis involved in assessing demand across a range of services and spectrum bands;
- It demonstrates how spectrum prices based on AIP have resulted in two important changes which are noted in the report:
- Prior to AIP, the MOD did not factor in spectrum pricing as part of investment and operational decision making;
- Prices reveal surpluses in spectrum leading to another important change in which the MOD now sees itself managing spectrum needs and not existing allocations.
The US Government published a National Broadband Plan and recommended that the FCC make available 500 megahertz (MHz) of new spectrum for wireless broadband, including 300 MHz for mobile flexible use within five years. In addition, the President directed in June 28, 2010, Executive Memorandum that 500 MHz of new spectrum for mobile and fixed broadband use. The drive to make available new spectrum for broadband is grounded in strong consumer demand for high-speed wireless Internet access. The FCC conducted a study of Broadband Spectrum requirements and published the results in the technical paper in 2010 - Mobile Broadband: The Benefits of Additional Spectrum, OBI Technical Paper Number 8.
The National Broadcast and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) of Thailand is the new legislated regulatory body combining the former National Broadcast and Telecommunication Commission into a multi-sector regulator. The NBTC is required to prepare a Master Plan for Telecommunications Services, a Master Plan for Spectrum Management and the National Table of Frequency Allocations. The Master Plan is to be published within one year from the outset of the new regulator being formed and will focus on spectrum demand and supply with particular attention given to cellular, broadband and broadcast requirements while addressing the issue of the Digital Divide