As I am getting my head around spectrum issues, I have found Michael Marcus’s blog, Spectrum Talk, tremendously useful. On the weekend he posted a link to a consultation that Ofcom (the UK communications regulator) have launched consultation on the possibility of of making license-exempt the bandwidth between 275GHz and 3000GH.

Excerpted from Ofcom doc - click on image to download full PDF

Excerpted from Ofcom doc - click on image to download full PDF

The rationale for declaring this range of bandwidth a “commons” is that the propagation characteristics of this range of bandwidth are such that any device would have fairly limited line-of-sight range.  This range of bandwidth is prone to atmospheric loss and does not travel well through solid objects.  Thus, the chances of interference among devices is minimised.  Also, the large range of bandwidth that Ofcom are proposing to open up would also reduce the chances of interference.

The motivation for this proposal are two-fold.  On the one hand, opening this range of spectrum to the commons reduces the regulatory management overhead for Ofcom.  On the other hand, and for me more interestingly, Ofcom have explicitly recognised the potential for innovation in unlicensed spectrum.  Specifically, they say:

“By removing regulatory overheads, the release of the spectrum in the 275-3000 GHz may encourage innovation and the emergence of new applications of value to citizens and consumers. Potential new applications for this band include short range anti-collision radar devices, detection of skin cancer and other non destructive evaluation methods used in industrial processes. However, given that it is unclear at this stage which applications will be successful and when this will happen, it is difficult to estimate the economic benefits to citizens and consumers.”
(text bolding added by me)

Recognising a spectrum commons as a source of innovation, in my opinion, is a very important step for any regulator.  These are the kinds of discussions that need to start happening now in South Africa but equally in emerging markets in general.  Spectrum is a complex area that demands as much technical as economic expertise to understand how it may be most effectively used.

Posted by Steve Song

@stevesong local telco policy activist. social entrepreneur. founder of @villagetelco #africa #telecoms #opensource #privacy #wireless #spectrum #data