GSR13 Chairman's Report
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Global Regulators-Industry Dialogue Day 1, Warsaw, 3 July 2013

Session I

Looking for spectrum?

The session on looking for spectrum was moderated by Professor John Nkoma, Director-General of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority.

Professor Nkoma introduced the panellists: Mr François Rancy, Director, ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau (BR); Mr Keng Thai Leong, Deputy Chief Executive, InfoComm Development Authority of Singapore; Mr Göran Marby, Director-General, Swedish Post and Telecom Authority; Mr Shiv K. Bakhshi, Vice-President, Industry Relations, Ericsson; Mr Peter Pitsch, Executive Director of Communications Policy, Intel Corporation; Ms Agata Waclawik-Wejman, Head, Public Policy, Google; and Mr Lixin Sun, Head of Wireless Standard & Spectrum Policy, Huawei.

On hand to set the scene before the debate kicked off was Mr Cristian Gomez, Spectrum Regulation and Policy Officer at ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau and author of the GSR discussion paper on TV White Spaces: Managing the spaces or better managing inefficiencies? Mr Gomez observed that the recent search for more efficient forms of spectrum use is a direct result of the increasing demand for wireless connectivity, which is putting tremendous pressure on radio-spectrum management. While spectrum demand varies across regions, the rise of advanced consumer mobile devices and data-intensive applications have increased bandwidth usage dramatically in both third- and fourth-generation (3G/4G) mobile networks, and Wi-Fi. Hence the interest in television white spaces.

Television white spaces are the unused portions of VHF and UHF spectrum in the terrestrial television frequency bands, but generally in the UHF band with its inherently advantageous propagation properties — these include excellent outdoor and indoor coverage, and non-line-of-sight. The opportunistic use of these television spectrum gaps is being considered by several administrations as an option for providing wireless commercial services other than broadcasting, for example low-power wireless broadband applications.

Two regulatory approaches are emerging. One focuses on a national ICT plan, as part of a harmonized international approach, to achieve economies of scale. The other is more of a short-term approach involving accessing free television channels through a licence-exempt (unlicensed) regime on a shared basis with the primary service. But this approach raises various questions, including about future bandwidth availability, security of tenure for service providers and the quality of service to consumers.

Regulators — and the policy decision-making process in general — will need to avoid sub-optimal use of the spectrum in order to obtain the greatest benefit from this high-value resource. The GSR paper provides a checklist for exploring regulatory choices in implementing white paces.

During the debate, it was noted that use of television white spaces is just one of the new innovative ways to optimize the use of spectrum. Some stated that while use of these spaces should be licence-exempt, it should not be totally unregulated — to avoid any interference to existing users of the television spectrum.

The white space opportunity is just one of the elements in the deployment of wireless broadband. Some regulators are already looking at making other spectrum bands available for opportunistic sharing. So, it is important to look at a broader set of policies and adopt long-term strategies.

From the ITU perspective, actions in spectrum management include adopting international regulations on spectrum use, as a basis for security of tenure, and harmonizing spectrum use to allow for economies of scale. Spectrum use by countries and operators must be registered to give rights to international recognition and protection against interference. Studies need to be undertaken and recommendations drafted within the ITU Radiocommunication Sector to advance spectrum harmonization and best practices. Finally, is the sharing of experience and knowledge — and that, for example, is the purpose of the Global Symposium for Regulators.

The use of television channels is diminishing as more and more people switch to Internet Protocol television (IPTV) — a notable trend in the Nordic countries. Spectrum should not be left unused but — while taking decisions on spectrum — care should be taken in order to avoid unintended or negative consequences. So maybe licences could be a precautionary measure for white spaces so that their use does not become ad hoc.

In the United States, where the concept of white spaces was created, not a lot has happened. Using white spaces — licensed or unlicensed — is a good idea, but how should it be done? The optimal outcome is to come up with cleared spectrum. In this regard, Intel, a strong proponent of unlicensed access, suggested that spectrum below 1 GHz should be made available for wide-area use on a licensed basis.

From some perspectives, many successful tests have been carried out in different sectors and in different countries and regions of the world. It is very important in trials concerning white spaces that all stakeholders are involved. Google has been involved in a project in Cape Town, South Africa, cooperating with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and several local partners including public and private sector entities. Similar trials in a multi-stakeholder environment are being conducted in Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi.

Innovative use of white spaces is also being tried in countries such as Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, for example with smart grids, smart cities, traffic management, and healthcare delivery in rural areas.

The panel was divided on the question of whether television white spaces should be subjected to licensing or not.

From the floor, it was noted that the problem with white spaces is the lack of a business case. There are some real opportunities, but the technology does not yet appear to be viable commercially. White space technologies cannot match the scale of Wi-Fi end-user devices.

Regarding the African examples, it was argued that — because in most of Africa the upper frequencies of the television band allocation were never assigned to broadcast television — experiments are needed after the digital transition, when it is clear what white space is left over.

Regulators need to press ahead with reallocating the spectrum released by analogue switch-off, to open up possibilities for new multimedia services. They also need to encourage broadcasters to think about converging with mobile broadband operators and finding new business models. Convergence will benefit nations, their economies and their people.

Regarding spectrum below 1 GHz, regulators should first ask themselves if this spectrum will be available on a cleared basis or not. If the answer is "Yes", then licensed wide-area use is recommended. If the answer is “No”, then regulators should be supportive of technical solutions that can use this spectrum in the most efficient way.

Some took the view that there is a lot of innovation potential that would be permitted through the use of unlicensed white spaces. Even if a licensing regime has to be put in place, there should still be a bit of space for unlicensed white spaces — underlining that these spaces are a fantastic opportunity for the industry and for regulators, and that they mark the beginning of dynamic spectrum access. Harmonization on a regional basis was seen as very important.

Others put forward the opposite view that a licensing regime for white spaces would help prevent abuse and interference. Licences give service providers security of tenure, and would also help avoid creating spectrum squatters. The right regulatory answer should be found.

To conclude, some panellists said that there is room for both licensed and unlicensed use of the television white spaces. Other panellists maintained that the best way to use television white spaces is under licensing conditions.


Photos and videos


Interview with Professor Nkoma