Spectrum Sharing: New Operator Business Models a Requirement
Radio spectrum sharing will be an inevitable part of the U.S. government's spectrum policy going forward, requiring mobile operators, infrastructure suppliers and device makers to invest in the technologies and develop new business models to make spectrum sharing a reality -- concludes a report by Current Analysis.
The lack of spectrum for mobile broadband services and the continued forecast for a spectrum shortage crisis has been a major operator grievance. Against this backdrop, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) took on the topic of spectrum sharing, suggesting that federal and commercial users look for ways to share federally owned spectrum. PCAST recommends that at least 1,000 MHz of spectrum should identified for sharing and that a hierarchy of sharing is enacted: federal users have highest priority, followed by exclusive commercial systems (such as LTE systems) and lastly generalized open access.
"The FCC has already granted T-Mobile an experimental license to test sharing in the 1,755-1,780 MHz band currently in use by the federal government," stated Jerry Caron, SVP Analysis at Current Analysis. "The federal government is moving quickly, and operators and suppliers need to be prepared to capitalize."
Spectrum sharing isn't just a U.S. consideration. UK telecom regulator Ofcom was the first to propose the idea of auctioning off spectrum for small cells on a shared-spectrum basis last year, and other countries are studying spectrum sharing as a way to ease demand for mobile broadband spectrum.
While spectrum sharing is seen as an unproven concept, some of the foundational technologies are already in place. Database management of spectrum -- the ability to move wireless signals from one frequency to another to avoid bands used by other signals -- is proving itself out in the white space market. Companies acting as white space database coordinators openly admit that they see broader applications of their work, applications which extend to sharing spectrum in other bands.
"Database technology paves the way to ways to manage spectrum on a more granular level, based on combinations of location, frequency, time, and device type," commented Lynnette Luna, Senior Analyst, Mobile Ecosystem for Current Analysis. "Interference, QoS, and priority access -- factors important for spectrum sharing between commercial and government users -- can eventually be managed with a database."
Small-cell technology is seen as another facilitator of spectrum sharing. The FCC has talked up plans to issue a rulemaking that involves deploying small cells in the 3.5 GHz band, which is already in use by federal users.
"Small cells are actually ideal solutions for spectrum sharing," noted Peter Jarich, VP Consumer and Infrastructure with Current Analysis. "Because small cells are designed to deliver targeted coverage, their chances of interfering with other services in a shared-spectrum environment are limited."
However, business models surrounding spectrum sharing are still unknown. For
example, device vendors will have to understand how to support spectrum sharing
and the various spectrum bands that might come with it, while operators will
need to determine what services would best fit in a shared-spectrum environment.
Operators are accustomed to exclusively owning spectrum, and the industry is already seeing some key opposition to the idea. AT&T, for example, while not totally dismissing spectrum sharing, recently declared that regulators cannot ignore what it calls a proven model around exclusive licensing when it comes to investment, innovation, and jobs.
"T-Mobile USA's test of spectrum sharing in the 1755 MHz band will serve as a critical step in understanding what extent spectrum sharing will be a viable option to help solve the nation's spectrum shortages," concluded Luna. "It will be important for infrastructure suppliers, device vendors and competing operators to participate to gain early insight into spectrum sharing."