The future role of spectrum sharing for mobile and wireless data services - Licensed sharing, Wi-Fi, and dynamic spectrum access

Statement 30 April 2014

Executive summary

1.1 In August 2013 we published a consultation and technical research studies which explored the potential role that spectrum accessed on a shared basis could play in meeting the significant growth in demand for mobile broadband and wireless data capacity.

1.2 Based on stakeholder responses and our own analysis, we have identified three key areas where spectrum sharing can play an important role in delivering future benefits to citizens and consumers:

  • For indoor use: ensuring that Wi-Fi based on shared spectrum can continue to provide high speed wireless network connectivity, so that consumers can fully benefit from the increasing availability of superfast broadband;
  • For outdoor use: increasing access to spectrum for use in a growing number of small mobile broadband cells, which we anticipate will be deployed to help meet the growth in demand for mobile data capacity driven by the increasing use of smartphones and tablet PCs; and
  • For internet of things (IoT) use: helping provide the spectrum needed to support growth and innovation in the emerging IoT sector, which is set to see hundreds of millions of devices become wirelessly interconnected by the end of the decade. These new services have the potential to provide benefits across a wide range of sectors, including healthcare, energy distribution, transport and agriculture.

1.3 In addition, our Spectrum Management Strategy, also published today, sets out the wider important role that spectrum sharing is set to play in helping meet the future competing demands for spectrum across a broad range of sectors and applications .

Spectrum sharing can provide important complementary benefits to dedicated spectrum

1.4 Spectrum is a scarce and valuable resource which is subject to demand from a wide range of wireless services including mobile broadband, broadcasting, programme making and special events (PMSE), satellite, radar, emergency services, military and the IoT. Some of these sectors already share spectrum, such as PMSE services which share spectrum on a geographic basis in the UHF TV bands.

1.5 Much of the spectrum in use today has been allocated on dedicated basis. This has the advantage that it makes it easier for services to operate at higher power without causing inference, enabling wide area coverage to be achieved with a good quality of service. However, as the demand for spectrum grows from an expanding range of wireless services, it is becoming increasingly difficult to accommodate new services in their own dedicated spectrum bands.

1.6 An alternative approach is to share spectrum between different users. Spectrum accessed on a shared basis can provide a complementary approach to the use of dedicated spectrum bands. Sharing can occur geographically, where spectrum is unused in a particular location, or on a temporal basis, where spectrum is only being used at certain times. Under both approaches, the same spectrum band is accessed by more than one service, which can provide a number of benefits:

1.6.1 It can increase access to spectrum for use by new services;
1.6.2 It can reduce barriers to spectrum access, acting as enabler for growth and innovation in new wireless services; and
1.6.3 It can allow consumers and businesses to more easily access spectrum and deploy their own wireless infrastructure where it is needed.

1.7 The focus of this document is on the role that spectrum accessed on a shared basis, either authorised on a licensed or licence exempt basis, can play to meet demand from mobile and wireless data services. In particular this is considered in the context of related advances in dynamic spectrum access technologies that can support a better sharing of spectrum between different spectrum users.

The full document is available below