Out-Law News 2 min. read

'Technology enablers' will help Ofcom determine if spectrum can be shared

Ofcom will decide whether spectrum should be shared based in part on whether the technology is available to enable it to happen, it has said.

The UK's telecoms regulator said that new technologies can help facilitate spectrum sharing. It said "technology enablers" will be one factor it will consider when deciding whether "the optimal use of spectrum" should involve "shared access".

To identify the potential for spectrum sharing Ofcom said it would look at the "characteristics of use for both incumbent and prospective users that inform an initial view of the potential for sharing and what tools may be relevant" and review whether there are "barriers that may limit the extent of current or future sharing".

The regulator also said that it would then look into "regulatory tools and market and technology enablers that match the characteristics of use and barriers to facilitate new and/or more intense sharing".

"New developments in technology have the potential to enable more intelligent and efficient ways of sharing spectrum," Ofcom said in a statement outlining a new framework for spectrum sharing (53-page / 432KB PDF). "The technology enablers we set out … were protocols, geolocation databases, sensing, automatic reporting of interference, and frequency and band agile equipment. In retaining all of the tools, we recognise that these technologies may have limitations but that they continue to develop and could play a role in future sharing models."

The regulator also said that it would release more information about existing spectrum use to help industry stakeholders identify opportunities for obtaining shared access to those frequencies.

Ofcom said that spectrum within the 3.8-4.2GHz frequency band "could support new uses" and be the first band where "enhanced" spectrum sharing opportunities are assessed in accordance with the new spectrum sharing framework. It has opened a consultation on its plans (33-page / 478KB PDF) in which it has asked industry for its views on whether "new regulatory tools" need to be developed to enable better spectrum sharing. It said geographic licences and "opportunistic spectrum access" are mechanisms that could be used to facilitate spectrum sharing.

"New technology enablers, such as geolocation databases, allow secondary devices to be able to determine whether or not a particular frequency is available and determine that its use will not cause undue interference to incumbent users," Ofcom said. "These are appropriate in environments where a primary spectrum user operates within a defined frequency range and where detailed usage characteristics are known."

"When the primary user is not using the spectrum, for example, the opportunistic device can transmit on this frequency until such a time that a primary user wishes to use the spectrum. In December 2015, Ofcom authorised manually configured devices to access TV white spaces in this way. We believe there could be scope to build on this decision, and to apply this type of regulatory tool to frequencies that can support high capacity data transmission over a short area, such as the 3.8 GHz to 4.2 GHz band. Another approach could be to make opportunistic spectrum access equipment operating in this band licence exempt, which could facilitate mass market adoption of products that access spectrum in this way," it said.

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