Licence-exemption framework review

The UK regulator, Ofcom, has published a statement on the framework for managing spectrum used by licence-exempt devices. The Spectrum Framework Review sets out Ofcom’s overall strategy for the management of spectrum through a market-based approach. In line with their duty to maximise the value and efficiency derived from the spectrum, the SFR suggests that spectrum use should be licence-exempt if the value that is expected to be derived from the spectrum under such an approach is predicted to be greater than if spectrum use were licenced. It also notes that, where interference is unlikely, licencing may present an unnecessary overhead.

The Licence-Exemption Framework Review extends the SFR by examining a number of specific issues concerning the management of spectrum used by licence-exempt devices, including;

  • Should spectrum be reserved for exclusive licence-exempt use by a single wireless application (i.e. application-specific spectrum)? Or should multiple applications be allowed to share the spectrum (i.e. spectrum commons)?
  • Is there a frequency limit above which all spectrum use can be made exempt from licensing? If so, what is the value of this limit?
  • Is there a transmission power limit below which all emissions can be made exempt from licensing? If so, what is the value of this limit and how should it vary as a function of frequency?

Ofcom is known to believe that, in general, application-specific allocations for licence-exempt devices result in inefficient utilisation and fragmentation of spectrum, and instead prefers the ‘spectrum commons’ model which is believes would maximise the value derived from any spectrum set aside for licence-exempt use. However, they do not propose the retrospective application of the spectrum commons model to existing licence-exempt authorisations, as this may result in harmful interference to legacy technologies.

The review also proposes more licence-exempt spectrum above 40 GHz, and more licence-exempt low power spectral density use, similar to ultra-wideband, on a non-interference non-protected basis.

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