DYNAMIC SPECTRUM ALLIANCE GLOBAL SUMMIT, PHILIPPINES: The telecoms industry needs a more dynamic way of accessing spectrum if it’s going to expand coverage to the four billion unconnected people around the world and enable the Internet of Things that will connect tens of billions of devices.

H Nwana (pictured), executive director of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, speaking at the alliance’s summit here in Manila yesterday, said dynamic access and spectrum sharing are a no-brainer and increasingly seen as such by many regulators around the world.

Dynamic spectrum access (DSA) is an approach to allow secondary users to access the many spectrum holes or whitespaces in licensed spectrum bands. The alliance claims the technology now enables radios to safely share multiple bands without interfering with legacy and other protected wireless systems.

Nwana, who spent four years at UK telecoms regulator Ofcom, noted that markets move much faster than spectrum regulation. “Coupled with an ever-growing demand for spectrum, we need to move to different models of spectrum regulation that reflect this dynamic reality. We shouldn’t underestimate what license-exempt access can enable, but we also acknowledge the great contributions being made by the licensed ecosystem today.”

He said DSA is on the “cusp” of enabling an alternative and complementary ecosystem to the current 3GPP ecosystem, with unlicensed WiFi key to helping drive more accessible and affordable voice and broadband services.

TV whitespace case
Nwana said passing on the benefits of the digital dividend can be long and painful when the reassignment of spectrum rights is regulator-led. The problem is it takes a long time for market-based mechanisms.

The process of freeing up the analogue TV spectrum and moving to digital TV took two to three years, and Ofcom had to give broadcasters £40 million in compensation to move to lower frequencies. “Luckily it had the money. Many countries don’t have that kind of resources.”

Dynamic access, he argues, is a better way.

Arno Hart, TV whitespace programme manager at the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa, said the key to tapping whitespace is having the intelligence to determine where the available spectrum exists.

He said DSA is technology agnostic and insists it is intended to protect the incumbent telco by ensuring there is no interference. “It’s not a replacement of, but a complement to, the mobile operator.”

A further benefit with DSA is that operators don’t have to wait for whitespace migration.

In addition to TV whitespace, Nwana said there is also a significant amount in mobile bands. The alliance is looking at 2.4GHz, 3.5MHz, unlicensed 5GHz, among others. Dynamic spectrum sharing techniques are already being considered in Europe and the US for the 3.5MHz band.

“Most spectrum is unused in most places, most of the time. About 95 per cent in most places in Africa.”

He said Africa will have to use UHF spectrum and efficiently access whitespace spectrum to expand broadband coverage.

Demonstrating the power of unlicensed spectrum, he cited statistics showing 68 per cent of mobile data in Hong Kong in 2013 was offloaded to WiFi, while in Singapore 51 per cent was WiFi offloaded. Without WiFi offload, mobile data traffic would have expanded 98 per cent rather than 81 per cent in 2013, according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index. By 2020 as much as 97 per cent of mobile data will be offloaded to WiFi, but that includes the surge in M2M traffic.