9 Insights into Spectrum Management
April 10, 2012
By David Lum
Spectrum belongs to every country as a natural and renewable resource. It is limited because of the demand by so many different sectors of industry, commercial business, education/academia, research and government. For example, TV and radio broadcasters use their channels to entertain and inform. Many universities use frequencies for scientific research. Aviation uses spectrum for air-to-ground communications. Public safety uses frequencies for communications when responding to help citizens in trouble. Because of the limited amount of spectrum, governments manage the entire spectrum range for all sectors of industry, allocating segments as they need to, in the best interest of the country and as fair as possible for all users. There is a high demand for frequencies, often making it difficult to get spectrum when needed. Most of us believe that frequencies will always be made available for two-way radio systems, even if the spectrum takes a lot of time and justification to acquire. However, spectrum is becoming more limited and tougher to get.
There are a few reasons for this. There are more users of wireless devices than ever before, including Wi-Fi for tablet and computer users, driving the need for more spectrum to meet the capacity demand. New wireless technologies and products, such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX, have been introduced in parallel to existing technologies that are also still on the air. New applications of spectrum, such as GPS radio location or toll collection are also creating more demand for spectrum.
Spectrum is critical to wireless products, systems and solutions for business operations. End users need wireless technologies to maintain safety, improve productivity, enhance efficiency and effectively work in a mobile environment. The path to creating spectrum usable by end users is a complex and long process. Behind the scenes, many years of work have been invested by regulatory bodies, wireless manufacturers and users in discussing spectrum band planning, which ultimately lead to the bands that we have today.
1. Patience Is Part of Spectrum Planning
In the business world, decisions are generally made quickly and decisively. In the regulatory world, when spectrum bands are being planned at the regional and global levels, everything is consensus-driven. This means that there must be 100 percent agreement before technical documents are finalized and approved. If one person out of 100 people disagrees, the entire negotiated agreement, which may have taken two to four years to get to, will come to a grinding halt. It takes a long time, many technical discussions and negotiations to reach consensus. One must be patient when working in this world.
2. Equal Unhappiness Equals Success
Because spectrum planning is a 100 percent consensus process, everyone must compromise for agreements to be ratified; what you specifically want today may not ultimately be what you agree to. This process can happen in a regional open meeting, such as at the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT), and in global open meeting, such as at the World Radiocommunications Congress (WRC). Eventually, progress is achieved when everyone has a little bit of what they want, and no one has a dominant position. Hence, when everyone is equally unhappy, success.
3. Silence Implies Agreement
In the meetings, to speed up the process of discussion, everyone is given an equal voice to contribute and to air concerns. When consensus is reached, a final check is made with everyone involved. If no one says a word, it is taken by the chair of the meeting to indicate agreement and/or support. If someone doesn’t like a word in a sentence, the word choice can be debated. For example, the use of the word “may” and “shall” could be debated for 30 minutes or more. If no consensus is reached, the document is carried over to the next meeting six to 12 months later. All meetings and documentation are conducted in English. It is an open process for all concerned to attend and contribute.
4. Presence Is Essential
Because the process begins at the regional and global levels, agreements made at these meetings flow upward eventually to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), where they are ultimately ratified. Once ratified by the ITU, the regulator in your country is bound by law to comply with the agreement. These agreements may impact you in unexpected ways. In an effort to not be surprised by new international policies, you should meet with your regulator regularly to track developments at the regional and global levels.
Better still, you should participate in the meetings to make your voice heard and your needs known. Everyone who shows up at the meetings has an equal voice to contribute their desires and their disagreements. Ultimately, your voice will get documented, and your position will be captured in the documents that flow upward to ITU. These meetings depend on volunteer participation. No one is mandated and required to attend these meetings. Everyone can choose which technical meetings to attend. However, those who attend are the ones who eventually make the agreements that affect everyone.
5. Long-Term Consequences
Spectrum planning has a 20 to 25 year view, unlike businesses’ one- to five-year outlooks or the 10- to 15-year lifecycle of a wireless system. Once spectrum agreements are ratified, they remain in place for a long time. If end users are required to move from one frequency band to another, it is incredibly disruptive to their operations and expensive. All spectrum-planning participants understand and are sensitive to this fact, and as a result, take their time to make sure that what they do is right for everyone. If a mistake is made, it takes an equally long time to undo the mistake. So the prevailing attitude is to do it right the first time, so it doesn’t have to be redone.
6. The Competition Is Mobile Phones
In business, competition is considered to be the other party at the bid table or the other
sales guy calling your customer. An oil company would see another oil company as its competitor. But for spectrum allocated for private two-way radio use in petroleum operations in the oil and gas market, the real competition is wireless companies that desire more spectrum for their wireless technology.
The dominant wireless technology going after as much spectrum as possible is the cellular industry, known by regulators as International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT), composed of operators/carriers and the manufacturers. Cellular carriers serve the consumer market, which has a market size measured in billions of people. Because mobile service providers generate profits, they can pay for spectrum from their cash flow. This makes the cellular industry extremely attractive to many countries in need of money for their treasuries. Government regulations are enacted from the national policy at that time. So private spectrum can be reallocated to IMT if the in-country demand is for IMT and no one fights for private spectrum. Silence implies agreement or support, remember?
7. Regulators Have Tough Jobs
Many end users blame regulators for the lack of frequencies for two-way radio or wireless data systems. Wireless manufacturers want unlimited amounts of spectrum to sell more products. Users expect the regulators to assign frequencies quickly and effortlessly when requested. The reality is different — spectrum is highly limited, and the regulator’s job amounts to horse trading and refereeing. The regulator must decide how to balance the spectrum plans for all industries, services and applications, and they must do so while guaranteeing fairness and non-interference between all the different parties involved. Technically, this is hard to do. Again, if they make a mistake, it is extremely costly to fix.
In addition to horse trading, regulators must always act as a referee between industries. They must be fair in their allocation to ensure that everyone has free and fair-use of the spectrum. Just like a referee on a football field, when they make a decision, someone always feels like a winner, and someone always feels like the loser.
8. Technology Updates Needed
Technology changes rapidly, and it’s important to stay current on technology updates and new architectures and configurations that affect spectrum use. For example, two-way radio technology has narrowbanded and is transitioning to digital, thus becoming more efficient in spectrum use. The regulators also must keep up to date with all of the technologies they manage, usually more than any end user. They must have a broad understanding of every technology that uses spectrum. Helping new regulators understand two-way radio technology and how it differs from cellular and paging technologies should be a priority.
9. Regulators Want User Participation
In spectrum management, the most interested and involved parties are the regulators and wireless manufacturers, because they want to harmonize on performance standards to keeps costs low for end users. Regulators contribute with their plans for regulations and overall policy for technology advancement in their country. Manufacturers contribute with what is technically feasible and provide the required specifications for interference protection and mitigation.
Because spectrum is so limited globally, both regulators and manufacturers need end users to get involved so that their voices, needs and desires are taken into account, especially the users of private systems. The IMT/public operators represent the consumers and they speak loud and clear that they want and need more spectrum; their profits and growth numbers speak for themselves. Without active end-user participation, regulators will do their best without that added knowledge. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. End users need to speak up or ensure that there is proper industry representation at the regulator meetings.
Many of the big names in wireless technology have participated in spectrum management and planning for decades. They invest time and effort to speak on behalf of customers in the spectrum planning meetings. However, because many are manufacturers, there is a certain limit of credibility in their voices. The need for spectrum has never been more urgent and in demand by so many technologies and users. With the transition from analog to digital in the voice world, and mobile broadband now becoming a reality, the competition for spectrum has risen to new levels.
Government and public-safety users need dedicated spectrum for private LTE systems and narrowband digital two-way radio systems for managing disasters and major emergencies. If end users are not involved now to ensure that they have adequate spectrum, they will be limited in their future options. Contact your regulator and learn how you can get more involved so that you and your industry’s interests are considered in long-term spectrum planning.
David Lum is the director of regulatory, product and support operations for the Asia/Pacific division in Motorola Solutions. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.