Friday, September 07, 2012

Spectrum sharing: European Commission proposals

Earlier this week, the European Commission published its proposals to encourage spectrum sharing, in recognition of the importance of spectrum to future growth and the fact that it is a finite resource that must be carefully managed. From the press release:
"The European Commission today unveiled plans to deal with the exponential growth in mobile and wireless data traffic by enabling wireless technologies, including broadband, to share the use of the radio spectrum...A coordinated European approach to sharing spectrum will lead to greater mobile network capacity, cheaper wireless broadband, and new markets such as tradeable secondary rights for a given spectrum allocation."
The full communication offers this definition of spectrum sharing:
"The shared use of spectrum refers to situations in which a number of independent users and/or devices are allowed to access the same range of frequencies under certain conditions...stakeholders are increasingly turning to emerging sharing possibilities to meet growing demands for wireless connectivity. To maximise the benefits of efficient spectrum use, it is necessary to support this trend, while ensuring that there is no deterioration in the quality of services provided."
Sharing spectrum is a necessity to address the lack of vacant spectrum:
"...the growing demand for wireless connectivity is coming up against limits in the available radio spectrum to meet it. There is, for example, no vacant spectrum left and the cost of re-allocating spectrum to new uses is high, in particular if current users have to switch off. Through advances in technology, shared spectrum access makes additional resources available without compromising the incumbent license holder's rights to use the frequencies. For example, many new wireless technologies are designed to share bands in which no licence is required (licence-exempt bands). Others make additional spectrum resources available by, for example, providing wireless broadband services in between TV frequencies (so-called 'white spaces'). To maximise the benefits of such approaches to share spectrum, regulatory barriers need to be removed and incentives provided at EU level. In particular, new regulatory approaches need to give different users, including current holders, guaranteed rights to use a given frequency band on a shared basis with guaranteed levels of protection against interference."
A related memo outlines why incumbent spectrum holders may be interested to share their spectrum, which could be of benefit to areas where current service availability is limited or non-existent:
"Incumbent spectrum users that have an exclusive licence could be interested in sharing infrastructures to provide their services. This could stimulate investments in infrastructures in areas where demand for services is uncertain, and actually make it more attractive to invest. Operators could also join forces for acquiring shared spectrum licences to get additional spectrum resources."
The full communication outlines the steps the European Commission proposes to take in this area:
"The Commission therefore proposes to develop two additional tools to provide more spectrum access opportunities for innovative technologies and to incentivise greater and more efficient use of existing spectrum resources:
  1. An EU approach to identify beneficial sharing opportunities in harmonised or non-harmonised bands; and
  2. Shared spectrum access rights as regulatory tools to authorise licensed sharing possibilities with guaranteed levels of protection against interference."
In the UK, white space technologies which make use of the gaps in spectrum between TV broadcasts have been trialled successfully - more on this here, with a more general overview of UK spectrum developments here. ISP Review's coverage of the European Commission's proposals is here.

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