The UK Spectrum Policy Forum is an industry-led group focused on future policy and approaches on spectrum. At a recent Forum meeting on Release Mechanisms & Flexible Spectrum Access, I was invited to give a Real Wireless perspective on spectrum options.

My presentation summarises some of the areas I highlighted. Where we go next is, however, is something I would like to expand on in this blog.

It’s clear, for example, when focusing on the applicability of spectrum sharing for public mobile usage, that it’s a necessary attempt to address an urgent problem. MNOs want more spectrum. So too, incidentally, does the other spectrum users. Spectrum sharing is one solution to this problem – but it’s a multi-faceted solution.

There’s clearly no shortage of spectrum sharing options (see slide 3). Variations on these spectrum sharing themes are also possible. There are also some enablers to share the spectrum, such as spectrum trading or leasing, for example.

However, all spectrum sharing approaches have their limitations. That’s why Real Wireless has developed a framework for individual MNOs and regulators to compare sharing approaches. The outcome of a given approach, not surprisingly, depends on many factors: time, region, technology evolution, spectrum band, the characteristics of the other users and regulatory decisions among them. It also depends on who’s evaluating it: MNOs and regulators do not always have similar objectives!

So what’s the answer? Essentially, sharing opportunities – and any value they may offer – should be defined on a case-by-case basis. The outcome will vary, as I have indicated, but that is the point of our framework. It takes into account various different viewpoints. More importantly it can adapt to new circumstances.

As our report on spectrum sharing for the GSMA[1] makes clear, sharing is still challenging and the provides uncertainties which is something MNOs don’t like investments points of view. Questions like: Is spectrum no longer to be an asset valued by shareholders? Will sharing make it more difficult for market analysts to value my company in order to make investments? Will the value of the spectrum be impaired by where it is being used – and how?

Ofcom’s figures on spectrum sharing are slightly optimistic; much of today’s shared spectrum is for civil aviation and military purposes. There is no real active sharing in public mobile spectrum yet.

Thus we think testbeds to establish use cases and carryout techno-economic studies to understand the real costs and benefits of sharing are necessary. One promising use case is localised spectrum, which we have studied and which can be seen to create value for local users. The examples in slide nine illustrate how this could work. And 5G may create more such use cases over time.

But this is just one approach. The usefulness or otherwise of spectrum sharing won’t be defined by one factor, be it 5G, Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA), interference management, geolocation, local value or economics. It will be a matter of balancing all of these.

Technology alone won’t make operators feel that reducing the economic value of exclusive usage of spectrum is tolerable. Economic arguments alone won’t cause Ofcom to abandon or promote DSA. A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis underpinned by a solid techno-economic framework is required for all players to understand the reality of the situation – and the options available.

Such analysis is a strength of Real Wireless. But we also believe that it’s the only way to address the concerns of most parties affected by it. Spectrum shortages may be one problem. But there are many solutions.

[1] https://www.gsma.com/spectrum/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/The-Impacts-of-Licensed-Shared-Use-of-Spectrum.-Deloitte.-Feb-2014.pdf

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