New developments in spectrum management

Spectrum is limited because of the demand by so many different sectors of industry. For example, TV and radio broadcasters use it for the TV and radio channels that entertain and inform us. Many universities use frequencies for scientific research. Aviation uses it for air-to-ground communications to keep us safe when we travel by air. Frequencies assigned for public safety applications are allocated to police, military or emergency services.

Because spectrum is limited, the government must manage the entire spectrum range for all sectors of industry and allocate its use to the best interest of the country.

There are a few reasons why spectrum is limited. There are more users of wireless devices now, which drive the need for more spectrum. Vendors like Motorola Solutions develop solutions depend on spectrum so customers can use wireless technologies for their business operations.

Motorola has a small team of highly technical and dedicated people who manage spectrum policy and advocate for proper spectrum allocations in the markets we serve. As part of the Global Government Affairs (GGA) team, we watch government actions on spectrum planning, and speak on behalf of the industries that we serve as a manufacturer. Some of the things that I have learned include:

Consensus driven

When spectrum band plans 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. It takes a long time, a lot of technical discussions, and a lot of negotiations to reach consensus, and one must be very patient. Everyone must compromise to get agreements ratified. Progress is often achieved when everyone has a little bit of what they want.

In meetings, everyone is given an equal voice to contribute and voice their 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.

Because this is a consensus-driven process, done at the regional and global levels, agreements made at these meetings flow upward eventually to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), where they are ultimately ratified.

These agreements may impact end-users in many ways. For example, one may suddenly get a notice to vacate one's frequencies and move to a new band. This will require making plans for a new wireless system. To avoid surprises, end users must meet with regulators regularly to keep an eye on what is going on at the regional and global level.

Long-term consequences

Spectrum planning has a 20-25 year view, unlike businesses that usually have 1-5 year outlook. It is also in effect longer than the 2-15 year lifecycle of a wireless system. Once spectrum agreements are ratified, they remain in place for a very long time. If end-users are required to be moved from one frequency band to another, it is incredibly disruptive to their operations, and is also expensive.

Tough job for regulators

The regulators really have a very tough job. Many end-users blame the regulators for the lack of frequencies they want for their two-way radio or wireless data systems. Wireless manufacturers want unlimited amounts of spectrum so they can sell more products. End-users expect the regulators to assign frequencies quickly and effortlessly when requested.

The reality is quite different. Spectrum is highly limited, and as such the regulators must decide how to balance the spectrum plans for all industries, services, and applications, and they must do so while ensuring fairness and non-interference among different parties involved.

Constant technology updates needed

Technology changes rapidly and it’s important to stay up-to-date with new technologies, new architectures, new configurations that affect spectrum use. For example, two-way radio technology is now transitioning to digital, thus becoming more efficient in the use of spectrum. Regulators must learn all of the technologies that they manage and must have a broad understanding of technologies that use spectrum.

End-user participation

The need for spectrum has never been more in demand by so many technologies and users. With the transition from analog to digital, and with mobile broadband now becoming a reality, the competition for spectrum has risen to new levels.

Government and public safety users also need dedicated spectrum for their private LTE systems and their narrowband digital two-way radio systems for managing disasters and major emergencies.

Both regulators and manufacturers need end-users to get involved so their needs are recognized. The IMT/public operators represent consumers and they have spoken clearly that they need more spectrum. If users don’t get involved now, they will have limited options in the future. 

About the author
David Lum has extensive experience in two-way voice and wireless data radio systems in mission-critical applications. He is familiar with the public safety landscape in Asia and provides consultancy to public safety agencies. He sits on the editorial board of Radio Resoruce International as an editorial advisor.