Wireless/mobile technologies are absolutely necessary for any agent who wants to participate in the new information and communication technologies market playfield. The means for the deployment of the wireless/mobile technologies is the radio spectrum. Thus, a rational assignment and an efficient use of radio spectrum become sine qua non condition for the sector development. The objective of this chapter is to present the reforms in the radioelectric spectrum management mechanisms that are currently being drafted (or that are even being applied) as well as to assess their advisability and timeliness. In particular, the chapter assesses the three deepest changes that are being considered: authorisation of the secondary market, usage of auctions for primary allocation and full liberalisation of spectrum usage.
The Traditional Spectrum Management Model
The traditional regulation of the radioelectric spectrum is conditioned by two assumptions: the radioelectric spectrum is a scarce resource (or at least a limited one) and it is also a valued good which is used in services that are essential to society: applications connected to security, defence and response to emergencies, telecommunications and radio broadcast, transportation, scientific research, etc.
With these assumptions, the radioelectric spectrum is considered as a public domain good by practically all administrations worldwide. As a consequence, the procedures for granting the right to using it are strictly regulated. Basically, after planning the usage given to each frequency band and specifying the service that can use it and the necessary technology, the right of usage is granted to certain agents through administrative decisions detailing the obligations of the licensee .
This system resolves the problems that may rise due to interference. Additionally, since the first step of the process, planning, is coordinated in supranational organisations, an acceptable (not always complete) global compatibility is guaranteed of the communication systems which also generates important economies of scale in the electronic device market.
As compensation for the rights of usage granted to the licensees, they are usually expected to pay an annual fee (fixed or subject to their results) and, frequently, to meet other commitments (usually regarding network deployment or level of coverage).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Secondary Spectrum Market: Market where the holders of spectrum usage rights transfer said rights to other agents.
Service Neutrality: Characteristic of frequency allocation processes where the service (and thus, the technology) to which a specific band is to be allocated is not specified.
Free Usage Band: Frequency band, the use of which is not subject to the possession of a license awarding usage rights.
Primary Spectrum Allocation: Allocation of rights of usage of the spectrum by the appropriate spectrum management authority.
Frequency Band: Fraction of frequencies of the radioelectric spectrum that present similar characteristics as regards the propagation of the electromagnetic waves.
Technological Neutrality: Characteristic of frequency allocation processes specifying the service for which a specific band is to be used, but not the specific technology to be used for providing it.
Allocation: Allocation of a specific band of frequencies for their use by one or more services (terrestrial or spatial radiocommunication, or by the radio astronomy service) under specified conditions.
Radioelectric Spectrum: Limited natural resource made up by all the radioelectric waves (in the frequencies between 9 KHz and 3000 GHz) that propagates through space without the need for an artificial guide.