The UK Spectrum Policy Forum, the industry-led sounding board to Government and Ofcom, launched the first in a series of reports on UK Spectrum Usage and Demand in late March.
UK Spectrum Usage and Demand report sets out the spectrum needs of different sectors in relation to their contributions to social and economic value. As such, the report reflects the sometimes contradictory priorities from different industries, with the aim of fostering open discussion and mutual understanding.
The research was conducted by independent experts Real Wireless and draws on the inputs of a panel of contributors for each sector, the report includes views on the importance of spectrum as a national resource from the space, utilities, business radio, meteorology and mobile industries.
Professor Simon Saunders, Director of Technology at Real Wireless, said: ‘Real Wireless was commissioned to provide a snapshot of current spectrum usage and expected long-term future needs of the major users of spectrum in the UK. The report identifies the business and societal activities that depend on spectrum and associated drivers of value.
‘We tried to be a conduit for spectrum users. The report gives an explanation of each sector; how they contribute to UK; what the trends are; and then map their usage onto technologies and spectrum. We also looked at the expected changes in technology for each sector and how that might affect their spectrum requirements.
‘We tried to look 10 to 20 years ahead for the technology and spectrum needs for each sector, which makes comparisons difficult as every sector has different horizons and definitions of long-term. Having done this, we then tried to identify the pinch points ahead and then what UK Spectrum Policy will do about it,’ said Saunders.
The UK Spectrum Forum is divided into three clusters each tasked with covering different aspects of spectrum.
• Cluster 1: Applications and sector needs – spectrum necessary to their continued health – creates the challenges that need to be addressed
• Cluster 2: spectrum release and access mechanisms – how to make spectrum available and how it is accessed – licensed, unlicensed, shared, etc
• Cluster 3: Social value of spectrum – not just economic value, but social impact of spectrum – a challenge put into the too difficult box over the years. How to assign value to sues of spectrum of benefit to society?
Saunders said the aims of the report are to: ‘Promote mutual understanding of current and future spectrum needs across UK users thereby assisting in maximising associated benefits (social and economic) and by ensuring spectrum supply can be efficiently matched to those needs. It also seeks to identify and characterise UK private and public sectors which have distinct spectrum requirements.
Professor Jim Norton, chair of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum, said of the report: ‘This is Tranche One; it is a living document, which the other clusters will draw on; it will evolve.’
Raj Sivalingam, executive director of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum, commented: “Spectrum is a hugely valuable, but limited, resource. The potential social and economic benefits are enormous, so it is important we fully understand future demand across multiple industries.
“Through extensive engagement we will be able to identify the spectrum pinch points, which will guide the future work of UK Spectrum Policy Forum, to inform future policy debates and maximise social and economic benefits from spectrum in the long-term.”
The key sector trends identified by the Real Wireless report are:
• Public Mobile: increasing data consumption will put pressure on spectrum allocations, and change how spectrum is used by the sector.
• Utilities: the move toward ‘smart’ utilities will drive a move away from reliance on wireless, toward a combination of networks that can provide the necessary security and resilience.
• Business Radio: demand for always-on connectivity and increasing data usage are driving the move to digital radio. The nature of these communications requires a high level of resilience, and for some users this translates into a desire for dedicated spectrum bands in mission-critical scenarios.
• Space: a growth area for the UK, this sector needs to preserve and secure existing spectrum holdings and seek expansion opportunities to maintain innovation and investment.
A second edition of the report is planned for publication within the next few months, which will cover the sectors that were not ready to be included in the first. These include: short range wireless devices, including Wi-Fi; defence, transportation, broadcast and entertainment, amateur radio and fixed links and wireless transport (backhaul and fronthaul).
Saunders said: ‘We found that there are multiple industries with sometimes conflicting requirements, so the work of the Spectrum Policy Forum is of vital importance if UK industries are to get the most from wireless services. At Real Wireless we work to bridge that gap between the users of wireless and the suppliers of wireless services.’
Philip Marnick, Group Director, Spectrum Policy Group at Ofcom, said: ‘There are many users of spectrum and we try to bring users together to make everyone see why others have an equal interest in using spectrum.’ He noted that every sector thinks their spectrum needs are paramount and that other sectors really don’t need it as much and should have their needs met in another way.
‘How do we balance the needs of all these spectrum users?’ asked Marnick. ‘Reports like this help because they enable each sector to understand the needs of other sectors and where they are going.’
He added that Ofcom’s job is to ensure optimal use of spectrum; to try and understand demand versus supply and make decisions in the light of where the world is going.
He said that Ofcom is keen on spectrum harmonisation and some big sectors really need globally harmonised spectrum bands, such as the satellite industry, for example.
‘Some need harmonisation to ensure economies of scale like the mobile phone sector and Wi-Fi industry. The business radio sector needs less harmonisation. We issued the first business radio licenses in the 1930s, but on the Continent they used the same spectrum for other things and we do get some interference now and again,’ acknowledged Marnick.
He said the key challenge is to identify the real growth areas. ‘Each sector tries to position itself, but everyone needs to play nicely together. He noted that small guard bands often exist to prevent interference, but sometimes they are not needed; it is just done by neighbouring users operating at different times of the day.
‘We need to understand what our neighbours are doing and when by using more efficient receivers to know when a neighbour turns up. Systems need to be designed around what a neighbour does, not what they might do and we need to try and build efficient future proof systems that can work together,’ said Marnick.
He concluded: ‘It is most important for industry to work together to understand the challenges of working together to make my job easier.’
A panel of experts from a number of different sectors was asked by Jim Norton: ‘What is the biggest spectrum challenge for your sector and others around you?
Daniela Genta, Head of Radio Regulatory Affairs and Policy at Airbus Group, said the main challenge for aerospace and defence was ‘maintaining harmonised frequency bands for NATO, satellite and space both fixed and mobile’, and illustrated the point by saying that the international satellite co-ordination body is facing 1,600 active requests for satellite co-ordination right now.
Ross Macindoe, Head of Future Networks at Airwave Solutions said that the sector was facing major changes and the challenge is how to bring broadband data services to public safety organisation and how to work with mobile network operators going forward if dedicated spectrum and networks are not available.
Adrian Grilli, managing director, Joint Radio Company, which manages spectrum on behalf of utilities, said the energy sector was facing the most prominent challenges. In fact, they face what he described as a trilemma of affordability, sustainability and security. He said that the country needs to ensure reliable sources of supply by utilities and not be interfered with.
‘All spectrum is allocated on an historic basis and they’ve got it now. Anyone new coming in has to find some spectrum, so they either share, push others out or go to a higher frequency. There is pressure for spectrum all around and we have new uses coming up. Space has to found somewhere without getting rid of the basic and most important elements of radio for our society,’ said Grilli.
Paul Jarvis, Head of Business Radio at Ofcom pointed out that business radio encompasses quite a fragmented set of industries including utilities and transport. He said: ‘In the last few years we have removed boundaries on our business spectrum; there is no hedgerow (6.25 KHz allocations) and you can overlap 50Mhz and some of that is shared with MoD and others. It is effectively a two-storey arrangement, stack and share, and that can work quite successfully.’
Saunders noted that some of the sectors are not used to getting together and coming to a common point. He acknowledged that that might be good competitively in some cases, but said sectors could both compete and articulate how the general sector can benefit from spectrum before competing for their bit of the pie.
Professor William Webb, CEO of Weightless SIG, which promotes open standards for M2M/Internet of Things connectivity solutions, wondered whether we should create a European policy forum to try and manage spectrum that way.
Jim Norton thought that it would always be a case of horses for courses, pointing out that even at a global level the ITU is divided into three regions. Saunders suggested that in which case perhaps a network of regional industry sounding boards could be created even on an informal basis to help manage spectrum.
Genta pointed out that this was perfectly possible as the satellite associations in Europe have got together and this has now spread to EMEA associations.
Marnick noted that 50% of all spectrum is shared depending how you classify it: radio mic shared with TV spectrum; satellite with fixed links; white spaces in TV bands and so on. ‘You can have dynamic spectrum access using databases to share spectrum; we are looking at different tools and techniques; spectrum is not used in the same place at the same time by everybody.
Responding to the observation that the public sector has traditionally blocked spectrum sharing in the UK, Marnick said Ofcom and Government is looking to share more and White Space is one example of this.
Saunders argued that it is not the case that there is a lack of emphasis on sharing, but said there was a structural challenge to be overcome and that for some business models sharing doesn’t work. However, new sectors are coming, which need spectrum, so the UK needs to look at traditional models and maybe change them.
Grilli observed: ‘All the technology we need is out there, but the problem is being able to deploy them and embed more intelligence into the networks. But we want distributed intelligence with self-healing capabilities and to manage things outside of our control such as renewable energy supplies.'
Speaking for the emergency services, Airwave’s Macindoe said: ‘More bandwidth is not where we start from; at the moment it works all the time everywhere, but as we move to new bandwidths this is what has to be maintained. How it works and how it connects back to the end user, they don’t care as long as it works. For the end user it just needs to work and it needs to be simple.’
Genta noted that it is hard to get everyone to talk together collaboratively to maximise the benefits of any particular technology even for things like 5G. ‘The challenge is not so much the engineering, it is in the business models,’ she said.
Norton wondered whether there might eventually be a migration towards a single network, but Grilli said: ‘There are major security risks in having one homogenous network. We don’t want someone hacking the national grid; segregated networks are needed in some sectors!’