It is possible for more than one user, such as an operator or service provider, to use a radio spectrum resource or set of frequencies at the same time and/or location, depending on certain conditions. This means more radio spectrum resources are available for a wider range of services. But it requires smart spectrum management to allow innovative shared use of radio spectrum and avoiding harmful interference.
The benefits of sharing radio spectrum resources
Radio spectrum is an extremely valuable natural resource. The exponential increase in demand for wireless services with different spectrum needs means we have to use this finite resource efficiently. In the absence of vacant spectrum it is hard to meet this growing demand. In addition, making already occupied frequency bands available is often expensive, involves delays and runs the occasional risk of having to ‘switch off’ existing users.
Traditional spectrum management separates wireless services into different frequency bands to avoid interference. This also helps to more easily guarantee quality of service (QoS).
Technology advancements have made it possible for different wireless services to be operated in the same spectrum band. So, additional spectrum capacity has been made available without having to remove existing users.
This enables a regulatory environment which encourages investment in research and deployment of wireless innovation. The same radio spectrum resources can be used at the same time by different connectivity providers to offer a variety of services such as affordable wireless broadband services at fixed locations and mobile, services. Shared use of spectrum may also open possibilities to share infrastructure.
Further, innovators developing wireless technologies gain the chance to access more parts of the spectrum. Shared bands, in particular the licence-exempt bands, are increasingly recognised as the breeding ground for wireless innovation that stimulates the development and deployment of more resilient wireless technologies.
Not least, spectrum sharing benefits citizens by delivering affordable wireless broadband services over shared spectrum and by enabling them to enjoy using even more wireless gadgets.
EU policy on the shared use of spectrum
The EU's Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) of 2012 sets out the framework, based on the principle that spectrum should be used efficiently and managed effectively. To enhance efficiency and flexibility, it requires Member States, in cooperation with the Commission, to foster the collective use and shared use of spectrum where appropriate.
Under the European Electronic Communications Code, or EECC of 2018, the promotion of the shared use of radio spectrum is considered a major driver for achieving the main objectives of the Code, namely promoting competition, the internal market, citizens’ and businesses’ interests and connectivity.
In line with the Code, Member States shall promote the shared use of radio spectrum between similar or different uses, while respecting competition law. They should facilitate the shared use of radio spectrum under general authorisations and limit granting the use of spectrum to individual users only in certain cases, This could include the need to maximise efficient use in light of demand, or to minimise issues of harmful interference. In both cases, Member States should take into account, where possible, the development of reliable conditions for radio spectrum sharing and combining general authorisation and individual rights of use. They should ensure effective and efficient use of radio spectrum, as well as promoting coverage.
Different approaches to sharing spectrum
Spectrum sharing can be implemented through different techniques based on frequency, time or location. This is realised on the basis of appropriate technical parameters, the number of tiers, or the priority layers of spectrum access, and spectrum access arrangements such as a static or dynamic way. More information on spectrum sharing can be found in the RSPG Report on Spectrum Sharing.
From a regulatory point of view, spectrum sharing can be achieved in different ways, notably by:
- the Collective Use of Spectrum (CUS), allowing spectrum to be used by more than one user simultaneously without a licence (i.e. under licence-exempt or a general authorization model) ;
- by using a variation of the Licensed Shared Access (LSA) model, where different users are granted individual rights to access a shared frequency band;
- by a combination of both .
The main difference between the above regulatory approaches lies in the regulatory guarantees for accessing shared bands.
The Collective Use of Spectrum (CUS) model
Under the CUS model, an undetermined number of independent users and/or devices is allowed to access spectrum in the same range of frequencies simultaneously. They must be in a particular geographic area and meet a well-defined set of conditions specified in spectrum regulations (e.g. in harmonised equipment standards). This is particularly the case when shared spectrum bands are ‘licence-exempt’. This means users do not have to acquire a licence to access the spectrum. Important advantages of the CUS model are low entry barriers, certainty of access (which in turn can encourage wireless innovations), and the low administrative burden for all users. It is the responsibility of spectrum users to share spectrum efficiently and to manage interference effectively.
Examples of applications and technologies that benefit from the CUS model of spectrum regulation include cases of short-range devices, such as Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) that support supply chain automation and machine-to-machine (M2M) applications, intelligent transport systems, automotive short-range radars , Wi-Fi routers, and Ultra wide-band (UWB) wireless technologies (like high-data communications, location tracking and ground-penetration radar). In particular, UWB is a type of ‘underlay’ spectrum usage – in that, it shares frequencies with other applications but without causing harmful interference to these existing user applications.
Licensed Shared Access (LSA) model
On the other hand, the LSA model gives users shared spectrum access rights that are guaranteed by a regulator, making it possible to ensure a predictable quality of service. Each user needs an individual (but not exclusive) licence to access a particular frequency band. Such authorisations depend on the specific sharing conditions in a band, which need to be sufficiently attractive and predictable for new investment in equipment and networks. Under this licensed regime, interference management is the responsibility of the spectrum management authority, which sets the access parameters through regulation and licence conditions. A user that receives such a usage right, for example by acquiring a licence through a spectrum auction, is often also entitled to be protected against harmful interference.
Recent developments in EU
In the ‘RSPG Work Programme for 2020 and beyond’, a specific work item was dedicated to spectrum sharing. The RSPG objective was to investigate how to improve spectrum sharing in the EU beyond the static and conservative sharing methods mainly used so far, by recommending innovative sharing solutions such as trials or ‘sandboxes’, pioneer scenarios/bands, new forms of licensing, more dynamic spectrum sharing take-up methods using databases and Licensed Shared Access.
The RSPG Opinion on Spectrum Sharing – Pioneer initiatives and bands from June 2021 provides high level directions concerning options for promoting spectrum sharing, especially regarding sharing condition and strengthening trust and confidence in sharing. The RSPG Opinion considers all spectrum bands as potential candidates for introducing and enhancing spectrum sharing solutions. It does not single out any specific bands for sharing purposes.
As a roadmap for increased spectrum sharing, the Opinion recommends actions to favour the introduction of innovative and more dynamic spectrum sharing solutions. It proposes some coordinated actions such as sharing experiences and coordinated action. Moreover, it introduces more dynamic and multi-country, cross-border cases with an EU footprint, and helps collaboration in research and development projects.
The above Opinion is complemented by the RSPG Report. The Report outlines the evolution of approaches and technologies for spectrum sharing and presents recent spectrum sharing initiatives and developments in the EU, UK and USA. The Report takes into account previous RSPG and BEREC works that tackled the issue of spectrum sharing in the widest meaning (see section “More information”).
- RSPG Opinion on Spectrum Sharing – Pioneer initiatives and bands, RSPG21-022 Final, June 2021
- RSPG Report on Spectrum Sharing A forward-looking survey, RSPG21-016 Final, February 2021
- RSPG Work Programme for 2020 and beyond, RSPG20-005 Final, February 2020
- RSPG Report on European Spectrum Strategy, RSPG19-031 Final, October 2019
- RSPG Report on Efficient Awards and Efficient Use of Spectrum, RSPG16-004 Final
- RSPG Opinion on Licensed Shared Access, RSPG13-538 Final,
- RSPG Report on Collective Use of Spectrum and Other Sharing Approaches, RSPG11-392 Final, November 2011
- RSPG Opinion on Cognitive Technologies, RSPG10-348 Final, February 2011,
- RSPG Report on Cognitive Technologies, RSPG10-318 Final, February 2010
- RSPG Opinion on Aspects of a European Approach to ‘Collective Use of Spectrum’, RSPG08-244, November 2008
- BEREC Common Position on Mobile Infrastructure Sharing, BoR (19) 110, June 2019, RSPG Opinion on 5G implementation challenges (RSPG 3rd opinion on 5G), RSPG19-007 Final, January 2019
- BEREC Report on infrastructure sharing, BoR (18) 116, June 2018
- Commission Communication on "Promoting the shared use of radio spectrum resources in the EU"
- Consultants study on Perspectives on the value of shared spectrum access, March 2012
- BEREC-RSPG report on infrastructure and spectrum sharing in mobile/wireless networks, BoR (11) 26 - RSPG11-374, June 2011
- Consultants Study on Legal, Economic & Technical Aspects of ‘Collective Use’ of Spectrum in the European Community, November 2006