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January 13, 2005

Ofcom and ComReg Prepare for Spectrum Changes

By Nancy Gohring

Ofcom, the U.K. spectrum regulatory department, and ComReg, Ireland’s spectrum regulator, are both working on trying to make their use of spectrum more efficient. ComReg is in the process of developing its plan for 2005 through 2007 and has some very interesting ideas. ComReg figures that Ireland is in a unique position geographically and the regulator been working on ways to use that as an advantage. Because the population in the country is relatively spread out and because it is an island, Ireland has lots of unused spectrum, compared to many of its European neighbors. Because Ireland doesn’t share borders with other countries (except Northern Ireland), it doesn’t have to coordinate with neighbors to make sure it isn’t interfering.

ComReg has an interesting idea for exploiting its spectrum-rich position. This year, it hopes to introduce a new regulatory framework that would allow companies—Irish or otherwise—to use spectrum here for research and development purposes. ComReg would go so far as to allow companies to introduce trial services to real end users who could actually pay for the service as a way for companies to test technologies in a real world environment.

Many regulatory bodies, including the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, have some sort of mechanism for allowing companies to use spectrum for tests. However, my understanding is that at least in the United States it’s not easy to get that approval and there are a lot of limits on using the spectrum if you’re given approval. ComReg’s plan is to be a bit more liberal with doling out trial spectrum and to allow companies from outside Ireland to come here in order to conduct their trials.

ComReg is definitely mindful of international guidelines as set by the international spectrum bodies, so it is not going to allow anything that would be in blatant disregard for European guidelines. It is also mindful of not wanting to promote services in spectrum that might be available in Ireland but not elsewhere, noting that it’s not economical to consider encouraging companies to build systems that would only suit the Irish market.

I went to a half-day conference this week where ComReg discussed this and other ideas for changing its spectrum policy with members of the wireless community here in Ireland. I found the idea of opening up spectrum for trialers to be a great idea and one that could not only draw innovative companies to Ireland but could also foster some exciting new wireless services in the future. But no one else seemed to be too excited about the idea. Perhaps I’m missing something—maybe ComReg has talked about this before but hasn’t actually done it. Or maybe there’s another reason that I’m missing for why members of the local wireless community wouldn’t be excited about this idea.

There was some mention of opening up more license-free spectrum, but it doesn’t seem that ComReg has any exciting plans there.

Both Ofcom and ComReg are talking about allowing spectrum trading. Opening up a secondary market for spectrum seems to be a hot topic in Europe these days. At the ComReg conference, Vodafone Ireland’s CEO was quite supportive of the idea, but other audience members were concerned about the affects. There wasn’t much discussion of how ComReg might regulate spectrum trading. In the United States, the FCC has taken measures to try to prevent speculators from buying spectrum at auction and then sitting on it while the value skyrockets. That’s not a good way to distribute spectrum as it can result in valuable spectrum not being used. I hope that Ofcom and ComReg are both considering ways to avoid such speculation.

Posted by nancyg at January 13, 2005 12:18 PM

Categories: spectrum

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