Four Takeaways on the Future of Spectrum Sharing

01-03 May 2018

The smartphone will be as successful and ubiquitous as the toothbrush, according to some, but all of that data consumption needs spectrum — not to mention the coming explosion in the number of connected devices as the Internet of Things and 5G attempt to network hundreds of objects in each home, business and public space.

Dealing with this will need more and more efficient spectrum sharing. As part of this, Access Partnership took an active part at this year’s Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA) summit in London. The DSA, who advocate for greater use of efficient spectrum sharing, focused the global summit on how spectrum-sharing regulatory regimes can coordinate to lower the cost of broadband and effectively deploy 5G and the Internet of Things.

Access Partnership’s Director of Technical Advisory and Regulatory Engineering, Colin Thomson, who was there to lead a session during the regulatory workshop, focusing on the opportunities for national regulatory authorities to employ dynamic spectrum access technology to manage spectrum, had four takeaways on the future of spectrum sharing:

1.    Technology has an increasingly important role to play in spectrum management

New technologies have created the opportunity to understand how and where spectrum is used in any given location at any given time. This knowledge – achieved using geolocation databases or by spectrum sensing – allows spectrum to be allocated dynamically, protecting the incumbent licensees while also allowing secondary and tertiary access by new users and applications. These databases also empower regulators, giving them back-end control to solve interference problems where they arise. According to Lord Willetts, a member of the UK’s House of Lords and DSA summit speaker, ‘dynamic spectrum access holds the key to turning a growing “geographic” waste of spectrum into a 5G success story.’

2.    The technology required for spectrum sharing exists — the challenge is the regulatory regime

Technology — such as equipment standards, geolocation databases and computational coordination software — have already made spectrum sharing a reality, but the challenge now is getting the regulatory regime right. At the DSA summit, we recognised that a three-tiered spectrum licensing framework in shared bands could protect incumbent services, provide the regulatory certainty necessary to attract investment in new technologies and applications, and support innovation.

Spectrum sharing has been gaining momentum in recent years; countries in Europe have explored spectrum sharing through the use of the Licensed Shared Service (LSA), while the US recently embraced the technology with a three-tier sharing model in the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS).

Extending this shared-spectrum philosophy internationally while ensuring the protection of incumbent licensees, establishing regulatory stability to attract investment, and facilitate continued innovation is the regulatory key to success alongside harmonised technology standards, and harmonised spectrum in sufficient quantity. Alongside technology, spectrum sharing will also lead to innovation in business models and applications they support.

3.     TVWS and CBRS could help to alleviate the “spectrum crunch”

TV White Space (TVWS) — the spectrum from now-unused analogue TV channels — can be used to provide broadband Internet access without interference. Similarly, the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) was opened up in 2015 with a three-tier access model, allowing telecoms and wireless operators to request a band.

Both of these initiatives take unused, protected spectrum and are putting it to use to provide innovative services. TVWS can reach, wirelessly, rural and difficult areas that fibre can’t, helping close the digital divide, while CBRS enables LTE to deliver cost-effective mobile broadband in shared frequencies without the need to purchase licensed spectrum and without interference.

Spectrum sharing like this is key to alleviating the spectrum crunch and expanding the reach of connectivity. The DSA and their member organisations support scrapping regulatory policies that create artificial spectrum scarcity and replacing them with policies that support alternative spectrum sources, like TVWS and CBRS, in an effort to increase available bandwidth, reduce costs, and increase consumer choice. Several administrations, including those in the US, the UK, Singapore, Mozambique, South Africa, Colombia, and South Korea have adopted TVWS regulations.

4.    More should be done to identify additional wideband (80 MHz+) channels for Wi-Fi and RLAN

Demand for Wi-Fi and license-exempt spectrum continue to grow as Wi-Fi is firmly planted as the access technology of choice for the vast majority of users. Regulators in Europe and the US are looking at the opportunity to allow license-exempt operations in the 5925–7125 MHz band on a shared basis with existing incumbent users.

20 years after being released, the 5 GHz band is close to exhaustion and the time is ripe to roll out 6 GHz to serve us for the next 20 years. The industry is focused on seeing 6 GHz made available for Radio Local Area Network (RLAN) operations, which are used for wireless access points like Wi-Fi hotspots, because of the short-term need for mid-band spectrum to meet growing demand.

The summit agreed that spectrum sharing falls well within the principles and objectives of the ITU Radio Regulations, which provide a global framework for harmonisation of frequencies regionally and globally, facilitating cross-border coordination, economies of scale, and an interference free environment. And, importantly, the radio regulations provide administrations with the flexibility to use spectrum sharing technologies effectively acting entirely within the regulations and rules of procedure established by the ITU.