Smart cities are becoming a reality around the world – we are moving towards a seamlessly, wirelessly, connected society, whereby the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G are revolutionizing our lives, and innovative solutions such as TV White Space (TVWS) are helping to connect the most remote, rural, and densely populated places on earth. Yet during this evolution, somewhere along the way, billions of people have been left behind.
Four billion people, to be precise, are living without Internet access globally. This is causing a digital divide, which will only widen unless it is tackled head-on. Connecting the unconnected is an ongoing process – it won’t happen overnight. There are numerous challenges that must be solved and overcome to improve global connectivity. One such challenge of the digital divide is spectrum management.
Around the world there is a perception that spectrum scarcity is a barrier to connectivity. But in real terms, most spectrum is unused most of the time in most places – spectrum is abundant if utilized and managed appropriately. The use of spectrum sharing, through unlicensed and lightly-licensed spectrum, has the potential to alleviate at least some of the issues faced by the unconnected around the world.
The unprecedented, and ever-growing, demand for spectrum that we are currently witnessing requires new approaches to spectrum management and new tools to drive much more intensive and efficient use of spectrum compared to what we have seen before.
Dynamic spectrum management is an under-utilized approach that has the potential to revolutionize connectivity as we know it. When used effectively, it enables an understanding of what spectrum is used at any given location, and the protection requirements of the incumbent user, and an opportunistic use that does not interfere with the incumbent services.
This approach should not be viewed as a stand-alone technique, but as one of many complimentary solutions that can work in harmony, with the same end goal. There should be a balanced approach to spectrum management, which encompasses unlicensed, lightly-licensed, and licensed spectrum to get the most out of the spectrum we have available.
This approach is already being implemented around the world through TVWS technology, which is enabled through broadcast spectrum and is currently being trialled in the United States, Africa, and in parts of Scotland and Wales in the UK. The Citizen’s Broadcast Radio Service (CBRS) in the US is taking dynamic spectrum management to the next level by coordinating incumbent, licensed, and lightly-licensed users, to drive a much more intensive and efficient use of spectrum.
This kind of unifying approach will be crucial to the future of connectivity around the world, as we attempt to connect the remaining four billion, while also reducing the current digital divide and ensuring this kind of inequality does not gain momentum.
The demand for spectrum, for future data-hungry services including 5G, the IoT, and ‘smart’ applications, will be significant and there is no realistic chance to displace the number of incumbent services necessary to clear that spectrum in the traditional manner – particularly in the timeframe necessary to provide these services. Dynamic sharing provides the most efficient way to make new spectrum available because it starts by protecting the incumbent services. Sharing and co-existence must be part of the solution going forward.
I look forward to attending ITU World Telecom in September (25-28, Busan, Republic of Korea) and participating in a lively discussion on ‘New Trends in Spectrum Management’, which will cover aspects of this blog post in more depth.