National and international spectrum issues need the input of independent thinktanks, if long-term issues surrounding the efficient use of airwaves are to be tackled with any degree of consistency, believes a member of the U.K.'s Spectrum Management Advisory Group (SMAG).
David Cleevely, chairman of telecom consultancy Analysys and one of 12 people in the group, says the U.K. is the only European country to have a specific, independent advisory group on spectrum issues. The role SMAG has played in the U.K. has so impressed Erkki Liikanen, the European Commissioner responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society, that the same model has been adopted within Liikanen's department as part of the new telecom regulatory framework. In addition, the EC man wants other member countries to set up such an advisory bodies to help develop national and regional spectrum policy.
In the U.K., SMAG advises the relevant Member of Parliament at the U.K. government's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) -- currently Minister of State for e-Commerce and Competitiveness Stephen Timms -- on all matters related to spectrum. This gives the Minister an alternative source of suggestions and recommendations, supplementing those from the executive agency within the DTI that deals with spectrum issues on a day-to-day basis, the Radiocommunications Agency. SMAG also advises that agency.
Cleevely says other countries do not have a recognized and organized independent advisory body, and that the European Commission has recognized the benefit of such a body. "Liikanen believes the SMAG model should be adopted around Europe," says the Analysys man, who met with the EC commissioner last week.
Cleevely believes such independent groups can offer a fresh perspective on spectrum policy and help to encourage innovation, as well as suggest ways for governments to better regulate, manage, and license spectrum, even though they only make suggestions, which can be noted but ultimately ignored.
"It is important to be looking ahead -- five, ten, even twenty years -- and attempting to determine the issues that could affect spectrum, in order to help shape policy decisions that could be made in the next year or two," says Cleevely. Examining and understanding the long-term effects of any decision -- how a policy might cause a change in the use of other spectrum, of technological development, of business plans -- is crucial when offering advice and making such suggestions.
He says it is important that each country has such groups that can cooperate and exchange ideas. "We are already learning from other countries -- everyone can learn from everywhere else. No one has the complete answer. The U.K. would not be making decisions about unlicensed spectrum, as it is now, unless we had learned from the experience gained in the U.S.," he says (see UK OKs W£AN Plan).
"The decision regarding 802.11 [2.4 GHz] in the U.K. was radical -- it may not seem so," but in a historical and organizational context it is, states Cleevely. The next big decision in the U.K. will be on the use of 5GHz spectrum.
Also of great importance is the widespread availability of unlicensed spectrum, which is vital to innovation in the wireless world, he claims. However, Cleevely does not advocate a spectrum free-for-all. "There is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' approach to spectrum policy that is successful." The unlicensed spectrum should be made available as part of a "portfolio," which also includes some spectrum that is very tightly governed, and other bands that are regulated less strictly but which are conditionally allocated for particular uses.
"The unlicensed portion is essential for the innovative development of new technologies that can then be developed and used in different ways." For example, 802.11 would not have been developed in the way it has been "if people did not have free spectrum to play with" in the U.S., he believes.
— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung