NEW SPECTRUM TECHNOLOGIES TO CONTRIBUTE £6.5BN TO UK ECONOMY
14 November 2006
Ofcom today published its second annual Technology Research and Development
Report which provides an overview of emerging technologies that have the
potential to make more efficient use of the radio spectrum.
Spectrum is a finite natural resource that underpins the operation of all forms
of broadcasting, fixed and wireless telecommunications as well as essential
services such as defence, transport, the emergency services and healthcare. New
and innovative technologies that make more efficient use of this valuable
resource benefit both consumers - with the introduction of new services - and
Ofcom's Technology Research and Development programme is funded though the
Spectrum Efficiency Scheme via the Treasury. Ofcom estimates that emerging
technologies explored as a result of the research programme could generate up to
£6.5bn in revenues for the UK economy over the next 20 years.
DYNAMIC SPECTRUM ACCESS
One new technology that is highlighted in today's report is Dynamic Spectrum
Access, or DSA.
DSA would allow intelligent communication devices, such as mobile phones,
laptops or PDAs, to roam onto any available wireless network at any point in
time, rather than restricting service provision to just one network provider.
With a variety of different networks and providers to choose from, a
communications device could intelligently select the cheapest service for the
customer. DSA could also automatically select the network with the appropriate
service quality and bandwidth to match the service the customer wants to use,
whether it is a voice call, SMS messaging, browsing the internet or video
DSA technology would make efficient use of the spectrum by linking the supply of
spectrum with demand though an open and competitive marketplace for real time
access to spectrum.
DSA is underpinned by a technology that would allow network operators to
transmit pricing and service quality information to communication devices such
as mobile phones. Ofcom is leading the research into DSA and will conduct
further work on the technology and economic issues in the coming year. Based on
the initial research, Ofcom believes that the technology could be ready to
deploy in five to ten years' time.
Peter Ingram, Ofcom's Chief technology Officer, said: "Ofcom has a critical role
to play, backed by Treasury funding, to research and encourage innovation in the
next generation of wireless technology. New technologies that make efficient use
of the spectrum benefit both consumers and the UK economy as a whole."
For a full copy of the Technology Research and Development Report, go to:
Technology Research Programme 2005/06
This report provides an overview of the technology research and development programme at Ofcom during 2005/06. It presents key findings and outlines the conclusions and implications that Ofcom has drawn from this work.
This is the second annual Technology Research Report. Ofcom publishes an overview of technology research and development on an annual basis to inform stakeholders of findings and to solicit feedback on both the results and the future direction of the programme.
While Ofcom is the regulator for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services, however this research programme is deliberately biased towards radio spectrum. This is because Ofcom has a unique role in managing the radio spectrum, which underpins the operation of broadcasting and wireless telecommunications systems. Most visions of the future foresee dramatic increases in the amount of information sent wirelessly; only by making better use of the radio spectrum can these visions be realised. By understanding potential future developments, Ofcom can determine how technologies and services might develop and shape regulatory policy accordingly.
It is typical in many areas of technology, including wireless, for only a few developing technologies to succeed. Our key findings this year are consistent with this, suggesting that of the many new technologies that are currently the subject of research and development in industry and academia, we expect only a few to have a significant impact on the use of the spectrum in the next decade. The technologies which we have considered which could have a significant impact on the use of new spectrum are mesh networks and dynamic spectrum access. Those technologies we do not expect to have an impact in the short to medium term include cognitive radio and software defined radio.
In addition, we have studied a number of potential issues with liberalisation and found that they do not pose a significant problem. We have also highlighted mechanisms for improved spectrum efficiency in areas of the spectrum where liberalisation is not expected to apply in the near future.
New Technologies and Concepts
Ofcom has undertaken research into a number of new and emerging concepts and technologies in order to understand their potential, gauge whether regulatory change is needed and further their development where appropriate. From this work we have concluded that these are broadly split into two categories:
* Those which we see as emerging in a longer timescale, of at least 10 years or possibly not at all which might be due to remaining technical hurdles for which no solution is yet clear, or due to insufficiently strong business cases.
* Others which bear evident promise, and may have benefit within a 10 year timescale.
The former category includes technologies such as Cognitive Radio and Software Defined Radio. Research and development into these technologies continues and in some cases niche applications exist where the technologies are applied, however universal adoption or the case for it does not seem likely in the near future. It appears to Ofcom that additional regulatory measures to facilitate these technologies are unlikely to be fruitful at this stage.
In the latter group we have identified a number of technologies with promise and where we can take measures to facilitate and encourage an environment for innovative new services and applications to emerge. These include:
Dynamic Spectrum Access , a concept which could enable users to dynamically access required spectrum, allowing for example the cheapest selection to be made by a phone automatically, for whatever service is required at that time and place. Broadly it seems that it is business and regulatory issues, rather than technical issues that present barriers to the development of the concept. On the technical side it seems feasible to deploy such a concept in a 5 to 10 year timescale. The concept offers the possibility of providing a complementary means of wireless service delivery to those already established, offering the potential of providing the end user with greater choice.
Mesh networks , where we concluded last year that mesh has the potential to provide complementary coverage to existing cellular systems, for example:
* Extending hotspots to wider areas.
* Provision of broadband networks to rural communities.
* Enabling sensor networks which have the potential to bring significant benefits to UK society, for example in the transport and healthcare sectors.
Ofcom has supported the emergence of mesh networks by undertaking research which has provided insight into where the benefits from the technology are likely to emerge, dispelling some of commonly misunderstood statements about the technology, and by developing improved propagation models for services which will be based on mesh networks.
Convergence of networks and devices is a trend which is increasingly evident in emerging services, for example BT’s Fusion and Orange’s Unique, which enable seamless phone calls indoors and outdoors. Ofcom is facilitating such developments through improving the understanding of signal propagation from indoors to outdoors and vice versa. This will assist with a better understanding of the capability of outdoor wireless signals to propagate indoors and provide useful services, and to allow the introduction of new service deployments indoors whilst providing safeguards against interference.
Liberalisation of the radio spectrum is central to Ofcom’s vision of spectrum management. Benefits that might be accrued from the introduction of trading and liberalisation to the UK have been estimated to be around £1bn per year. Liberalisation is not without risk. Inappropriate reductions in restrictions on users of the radio spectrum, for example allowing complete freedom in the use a licensee makes of the radio spectrum, could result in significant harmful interference between users and a reduction in the economic value of the radio spectrum. Therefore, our research in this area has concentrated on providing increased certainty in the delivery of a liberalised trading environment to ensure the benefits are realised with the minimum risk. Areas we have addressed to deliver these safeguards are:
Fragmentation of the radio spectrum , which could potentially leave areas of the radio spectrum which are too small to be usefully used. Our work has concluded that fragmentation is not currently a significant problem, and it is unlikely to become so in the future in a liberalised trading environment. Furthermore, should fragmentation occur, technology has been identified that could make use of broadband services by aggregating these spectrum fragments.
Improving our understanding of the threat of interference from sources of unwanted emissions, such as electromagnetic compatibility, Ultra-Wideband and spurious emissions, where we have identified that current levels of interference generated are not likely to be harmful, and they are not likely to degrade our spectrum quality further. Adequate protection is offered through existing regulations.
Development of a generic radio modelling tool for liberalised spectrum and associated underpinning propagation research. Tools which Ofcom has used under the command and control regime for spectrum planning and assignment are not sufficient in a liberalised environment. A new regime of spectrum management requires a new tool that can assess interference and undertake spectrum planning and assignment between different services. Ofcom has commissioned work which has resulted in the development of such a tool. This will allow Ofcom to respond more rapidly to licensee requests to change the use they make of their spectrum, with a high degree of certainty that harmful interference will not be caused.
Improving certainty to encourage use of lightly used frequency bands. Higher frequencies tend to be more lightly used, primarily due to the less favourable propagation characteristics. For example, as UHF frequencies become increasingly congested, there is growing interest in the use of frequencies above 3 GHz, for mobile and broadcast purposes. Ofcom has underway development of accurate propagation models for these frequencies which will help to reduce risk in deploying services at these higher frequencies and also enable better spectrum management of these services in the future.
Enhancing spectrum efficiency in areas where liberalisation cannot help
There are areas of the radio spectrum where we have chosen not yet to adopt a liberalised regime. Work commissioned by Ofcom has resulted in a number of measures for improvement in these areas, including:
Better management and utilisation of licence exemption; where we have undertaken a review of the use of licence exemption, including where it should be used and how to utilise it most effectively; for example should politeness protocols be mandated and if so where? Is there a frequency above which all spectrum use should be licence exempt? Ofcom will be publishing a consultation on its strategy and recommendations as a result of this work early next year.
Improving satellite system efficiency ; where we have investigated the application of spatial diversity and concluded it is a cost effective means of utilising spectrum more efficiently in the short term.
Facilitating the move away from congested areas of the spectrum in fixed services, by proving the capability of Free Space Optics systems By undertaking work to prove the capabilities of these systems we have identified the applications where they might be used and reduced the barrier to service providers who might employ such technology for fixed services. This could enable a radically increased deployment of short range fixed links in underused spectrum.