Spectrum sharing needs careful planning to get right

23 November 2018

To help keep up with continued rise in data traffic, spectrum sharing can play a complementary role. But it is essential to consider which bands suit sharing and select the right sharing framework. The GSMA’s positions offer guidance for regulators that want to support innovative and affordable mobile services.

The continued rise in data traffic means mobile services rely on access to growing amounts of spectrum to meet demand. However, it is increasingly difficult to completely clear new frequency bands for future mobile use. Spectrum sharing may be a way to help, when clearing a band is not possible, by enabling mobile access to additional bands in areas, and at times, when other services are not using them.

There are a couple of main points to think about when considering spectrum sharing. Firstly, the proposed band should provide enough spectrum in areas where mobile operators are seeing growing demand.

Secondly, is getting the sharing framework right. It controls who can share the band and defines the usage rights and limitations. A successful one is understandable, usable and tailored to the needs of the users. It should include certainty of access and sufficient block sizes, for example. Key variables are: the number of access tiers, access guarantees and access terms.

While spectrum sharing holds potential, it cannot supplant the need for exclusively licensed mobile spectrum. The global success of mobile services rests on a foundation of exclusively licensed spectrum as it supports widespread services and the certainty needed for long-term heavy network investment and high-quality service. However, sharing can play a complementary role to traditional spectrum licensing by allowing mobile services to access new bands where there are no other reasonable alternatives.

The GSMA’s positions on spectrum sharing are:

1. Spectrum sharing is an opportunity to open up access to new spectrum for mobile services but needs careful planning to succeed

2. Exclusive licensing has been central to the success of mobile services and must continue

3. Sharing will only be useful for operators if the proposed band is harmonised for mobile use. It also must be available and usable in sufficient quantities in areas and at times where needed

4. Operators favour a simple sharing framework that is investment-friendly and supports reliable, high quality mobile services

5. Mobile operators should not be prohibited from voluntarily sharing their spectrum to support faster services, improve coverage and drive innovation

6. Sharing can play a role in the 5G era but poor implementation risks harming its potential

7. Regulators need to help incentivise incumbents in attractive bands to share

8. The framework should balance the current and future requirements of incumbents and sharers

You can read a blog post from GSMA’s Laurent Bodusseau here. And the full position paper is available here.

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