UK Spectrum Policy Forum warns of spectrum ‘crunch’

New report from industry-led sounding board to Government identifies long-term spectrum requirements and identifies common concerns across 11 industry sectors highlight future policy requirements

UK Spectrum Policy Forum warns of spectrum ‘crunch’

The UK Spectrum Policy Forum warned that the UK is at risk of a spectrum ‘crunch’ if growing demand is not met, it said at the launch of a new report at techUK’s London offices this week (16 December 2015). Failure to provide adequate spectrum across a number of sectors that have critical business and social requirements could result in significant economic and social impact for the UK.

Based on studies of 11 sectors, from space and radio to broadcasting and transport, the report, UK Spectrum Usage & Demand (Second Edition), provides a snapshot of the current spectrum usage and expected long-term future needs. The study of the major users of spectrum in the UK identifies the business and societal activities which depend on spectrum and the associated drivers of value.

Based on these views, the report identifies spectrum ‘pinch points’, which must be addressed if we are to maximise future growth in spectrum value. Across sectors a set of common themes are identified, which may constrain the value of services if not addressed appropriately. These pinch points include:

• An insufficiency of spectrum to support the capacity needs of sectors experiencing and expecting substantial growth in demand;
• Threats to current services from spectrum demand from other sectors, either via changes to spectrum allocations or from interference, creating challenges in promoting future investment;
• The need to align UK spectrum policy with international policies in order to promote economies of scale in equipment and open access to services;
• Tensions between public sector and private use of spectrum;
• Tensions between exclusive licensing and licence-exempt spectrum access;
• Tensions between public access and critical communications
• Immaturity and lack of regulatory clarity of newer models for spectrum access such as spectrum sharing and policies regarding spectrum pricing.

David Meyer, chairman of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum, said: “Spectrum is a national asset that is increasingly subject to international developments and which, if appropriately distributed and used, can yield substantial economic and social value for the UK.

“The findings of this report will help industry, Ofcom and Government maintain the UK’s leading place on spectrum in Europe and more widely. By promoting mutual understanding between sectors we can assist in forming polices which will maximise spectrum value for the UK.”

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: ‘Radio spectrum is increasingly important to business and will play a key role in the continued growth of the UK's economy. This report on the future of spectrum will help us work together to focus on the challenges in getting the best value for the UK from using spectrum.’

Vaizey added: ‘The first milestone is the report launch. It is a valuable piece of work and a huge amount of effort has gone into it to provide an up to date picture of the range of demands on what is a finite amount of spectrum.

‘It provides a picture of the issues and challenges that we are going to face - the pinch points and will help us develop a roadmap going into the future by bringing industry and other stakeholders together. It will keep Government up to date on spectrum changes, so we know what to do to help consumers and businesses.’

Vaizey said that the spectrum ‘crunch’ should not be seen as alarmist, but rather as a spur to look at innovation, such as dealing with interference mitigation, for example. He added: ‘We will release as much spectrum as possible, but that may not be just public to private; it may involve sharing spectrum.

‘We now have new arrangements in Government to manage spectrum release programme. We had big help from MoD with this and we now have an area of expertise in Whitehall about how to take this forward. We are aiming for not necessarily the best solution, but the most practical.’

He also that the Government is working on the international scene as regards spectrum, such representing the UK at the recent ITU World Radio Conference 2015 in November, revealing that Government is working closely with Ofcom on WRC19.

‘There has to be a European focus too,’ he said. ‘But we don’t thing harmonisation is an end in itself. We want spectrum decisions in Europe to be fair, but do not want a mandatory regime,’ concluded Vaizey.

The Spectrum Demand & Usage report coincides with the publication of another report, Incorporating Social Value into Spectrum Allocation Decisions - available on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website.

The aim of this report was stated in the Government’s Spectrum Strategy announced in 2014, where it said: ‘We intend to move towards a comprehensive system for valuing spectrum that keeps economic value as its bedrock, but extends this to take a range of social costs and benefits into proper account.’

As one of the authors of the report, LSE Associate Professor and Director of the Media Policy Project, Damian Tambini, put it on his blog: ‘The problem with such decisions as currently made is that there is no unified agreed procedure for approaching them, or evaluating competing claims to social value.’ 

The report puts together a methodology to help Government and its advisors assess the social value of spectrum for particular sectors and society as a whole.

UK Spectrum Policy Forum forward programme
UK Spectrum Policy Forum is the industry-led sounding board to Government and Ofcom on future spectrum management and regulatory policy with a view to maximising the benefits of spectrum for the UK.

The main objective of the Forum is to enable the policy and regulatory environment for maximising access to spectrum through cross-industry leadership and exploring ‘over the horizon’ issues in spectrum-using applications. The UK Spectrum Policy Forum is supported by techUK.

Chris Cheeseman, Chair, UK Spectrum Policy Forum Steering Board, outline the 2016 forward work programme.

Cluster 1: spectrum pinch points, will look at:
• PMSE requirements
• IMT (5G) mmWave work WRC19
• 5GHz RLAN extension WRC19
• UHF band review WRC-23
• M2M/IoT


Cluster 2: spectrum access, will look at:
• Public sector spectrum release
• Receiver performance
• Resilience
• Innovative solutions (eg HAPS) and aerial platforms

Cluster 3: social value of spectrum – merging into Cluster 2
• Develop examples of the application of the social value methodology

Cluster 4: International
• UK international preparatory process ITU WRC, EC etc
• EU Regulatory Framework Review (spectrum aspects).

The 11 sectors identified by the report are:

• Public mobile
• Utilities
• Business Radio
• Space
• Meteorology
• Defence
• Transportation
• Broadcasting and Entertainment
• Short range wireless
• Fixed Wireless: Access and Transport Networks
• Amateur radio

The UK Spectrum Usage & Demand (Second Edition) report can be found here.

See also: First report from UK Spectrum Policy Forum calls for cross-industry co-operation


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