Speech for dynamic spectrum access forum, Brussels


7 March 2012

By Ed Richards

Chief Executive, Ofcom

PDF FileSpeech for dynamic spectrum access forum, Brussels



  • Dynamic spectrum access has been discussed, debated and researched for the last two decades, from software radio, to cognitive radio, to geolocation.
  • In the past, technological constraints have held back the development of this approach. That is no longer the case. The constraints are now essentially of regulation and policy.
  • In other words, the introduction of dynamic spectrum access now lies in our hands.
  • On its own this would be a compelling enough reason to move ahead. But the impetus is greater still.
  • At the same time as the technological constraints have fallen away, the need for much more efficient spectrum use has intensified sharply as the demand for more wireless data has boomed.
  • Taken together, the grounds for moving the vision of dynamic spectrum access from academia to implementation are now very powerful.
  • And the case for swift action is strong. The lead time involved in what would be an important shift in policy are not short - even if we started today, consumers will not feel the very significant potential benefits for some time. But the emerging and intensifying demand for wireless data is such, I believe, that we do not enjoy the luxury of a more gradual approach.
  • I want to suggest to you today that we now need a common and co-ordinated approach to this increasingly vital area, starting with TV white space devices but ultimately looking to establish dynamic spectrum access much more widely.
  • As we do, I will argue that we need to be decisive and even bold, which means thinking creatively about our current spectrum management approaches.
  • Regulators and policy-makers now have to establish a clear shift towards dynamic spectrum access, promoting the huge potential for innovation to which markets can respond.
  • In moving toward implementation, we need a timely definition of an appropriate regulatory framework and industry standards to ensure we enable innovative new access to our spectrum in a way that safeguards other uses.

The vision - why it is important, and why it hasn’t taken hold

  • As I’ve already mentioned, the idea of more dynamic access is not new.
  • Myriad conferences, papers, academic research, and EU framework projects over the last two decades demonstrate a consensus in favour of exploiting proven and new technology to deliver more efficient use from our finite and increasingly contended spectrum resource.
  • Why then, should we consider this to be so important now?
  • If you have made it through today without a graph showing exponential demand for mobile data, then I would be very surprised.
  • These forecasts have become almost a cliché, but like many clichés they convey an important truth. Although the variation in forecasts is wide, the demand for mobile data is increasing rapidly and is set to increase much further over the next decade.
  • Research commissioned by Ofcom shows that even if the release of current spectrum such as 2.6GHz and 800 MHz, and the release of much of the promised government public sector spectrum holdings all go ahead as planned, even the most conservative forecast for demand will outstrip supply.
  • As we move to more efficient standards such as LTE, we may find ways to address this mismatch, if only partially. There will still be a real spectrum crunch and European consumers as a whole will lose out unless we find new ways to meet demand.

Benefits and safeguards

  • Why, then, does dynamic access offer such an important potential solution?
  • A key consideration is one of flexibility, especially for international harmonisation of spectrum bands.
  • This is often a major hurdle. It takes a long time for allocations through WRCs.
  • Devices don't get made until this process is complete and there is regulatory certainty. Dynamic spectrum access offers a long-term solution to this by making it viable to develop devices capable of covering much broader bands for operation in different national markets.
  • At the same time the use of white spaces allows more spectrum to be used and in a more flexible manner.
  • By using white space database technologies, different countries can choose to allow low-power access to different bands of spectrum.
  • In the UK, for instance, we are considering allowing access over 500-800MHz, while Germany may choose 500-600MHz. Databases can cope with this variation.
  • In turn, this also means that different policies can be adopted by national regulators to protect spectrum allocations defined by national public policies. The UK, for example, will protect DTT and PMSE use. Others may have differing positions. These can be accommodated and can vary through time, using databases.
  • Another important benefit is that it enables license exemption to be considered with greater confidence. Regulators are inhibited from exemption as it makes later reclamation and band clearance difficult. This means that licence exemption may not go ahead even when there are clear benefits to doing so.
  • With white space databases that is less of a one-way bet.
  • The model we are pushing in the UK is for the regulator to control the white space device transmit power. If harmful interference occurs we can turn down the power.
  • This approach means we avoid disruption to existing users. And as receivers improve over the years, so will confidence in the technology.

Rationale for moving ahead with TV white spaces

  • With substantial benefits and with comprehensive safeguards against interference, it makes sense to push ahead.
  • Enabling access to the TV whitespaces in the UK is where we want to start. In the short term, we think this could produce some very exciting innovations, while also making use of prime spectrum that would otherwise lay fallow.
  • Prime examples of services include:
  • rural broadband, where the enhanced radio propagation at UHF allows cost-effective provision of wireless internet to remote areas.
  • machine-to-machine communications, where data can be collected wirelessly from sensors; for example, for automatic reading of gas, water or electricity meters.
  • in-home Wi-Fi type networks, where good radio propagation through walls at UHF frequencies is again helpful.
  • And there is significant interest from industry, such as MicroSoft, Sky and BT.
  • As important in its own terms as this is, we also see TV white spaces as an important stepping stone in realising the much bigger, long-term benefits of this technology, by:
  • Unambiguously establishing its viability
  • Demonstrating the possibilities of improved spectrum use and a more flexible spectrum map
  • Setting out an enabling regulatory regime
  • And developing robust standards
  • By enabling TV white space devices in the UK we aim to show the potential of the technology. To fully realise the benefits of dynamic spectrum access, however, we need collective European commitment to support it further.
  • Without this, it will be difficult to gain the necessary economies of scale for the production of white space devices.

What should we do?

  • Moving forward in this way will not be easy.
  • As regulators, we are used to, and even perhaps comfortable with, an international framework that in lots of ways works well, but which can never be accused of being speedy or responsive.
  • Secondly, we are still overwhelmingly operating in an environment in which spectrum is traditionally parcelled up, allocated, licensed - and in some circumstances, not heavily used.
  • Because of the patchwork way in which rights have been assigned, we do not have the option of throwing away the spectrum map and starting again with a clean sheet of paper.
  • We need to work with what we've got and develop new ways to maximise spectrum use and the benefits that use brings.
  • Since its inception, Ofcom has adopted a strategy of enabling market forces and liberalisation to address this issue.
  • But spectrum is not a perfect market, and there is a need for parallel strategies to drive innovation and free up more use.
  • For example, we need low barriers to entry for innovation. The best example is the unprecedented success of WiFi. It is zero cost, unlicensed spectrum, rather than a conventional market mechanism, but it now carries most of the world’s mobile data.


  • We need to look at solutions like dynamic spectrum access alongside the use of market mechanisms.
  • The US has so far led the way in enabling access to TV white spaces. Different European countries have different constraints in their TV bands, but that should not stop us from catching up and even overtaking developments in the US.
  • Over the past two years we have been working with other national regulators in CEPT to develop the right regulatory requirements for database-assisted access to TV white spaces.
  • It is important for CEPT to focus on issues relating to the "interfaces" between databases and devices, rather than details of how databases are implemented.
  • As I've mentioned already, one of the strengths here is that different member states can implement the databases to suit their national circumstances.
  • We are greatly encouraged by the European Commission's stance and activities over the past few months in issuing a mandate for ETSI to create European harmonised standards for cognitive and software-defined radios. We are particularly encouraged that the EC mandate includes work specifically related to database-assisted access to TV white spaces.
  • Parallel to that, we are working with stakeholders to ensure that appropriate regulatory requirements are incorporated into the future harmonised standards.
  • Enabling TV white spaces is a stepping stone to potentially enabling access to white spaces in other bands and to further dynamic spectrum access methods, including database-assisted spectrum access, cognitive sensing, dynamic licensed & exempt.
  • In this, protecting against harmful interference is still critical. Particularly at this time where this technology is relatively new and networks and devices are not yet widely deployed. But, at this stage it is also critical that we get the technology out there and have a controlled launch of these devices.
  • Technology in this area, as in other areas, is moving forwards at a fast pace. But we should also be confident in the groundwork that has been established. The science is clear; the technology is in many areas already there and continues to improve quickly. So there is a significant opportunity here that we need to grasp.
  • The technology for more dynamic spectrum access has come of age without being exploited fully. At the same time, consumer demand for services has exposed the limitations of the current arrangements.
  • It is time to make progress on these issues. It is now up to regulators and policy makers to provide the means to unleash the innovative potential of dynamic spectrum access and, in doing so, play an important part in tackling the spectrum crunch.