Microsoft pushing Europe to allocate license-exempt spectrum

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is boosting its push for license-exempt dynamic access to radio frequencies by touting a new white paper that compares the economic impact of two approaches to spectrum allocation.

The paper, created in partnership with Microsoft, was written by Richard Thanki, formerly a senior associate with UK regulator Ofcom and now a PhD candidate with the University of Southampton.

Thanki compares a license-based access regime, in which a user will need to obtain a license through a regulatory award or market-based negotiation, to a rule-based access regime, "in which the satisfaction of certain conditions, such as limited transmit power levels, checking with an online database and/or payment of an access fee permits spectrum access."

The license-based approach is exemplified by a system called Licensed Shared Access (LSA), which is currently being assessed by the European Commission's Radio Spectrum Policy Group, said Jim Beveridge, Microsoft's director of international technology affairs, in a blog entry.

LSA "makes use of dynamic access in certain frequency bands but is limited to a few licensed users," he said, much like current licensing systems.

According to Beveridge, the Microsoft Spectrum Observatory has uncovered a considerable amount of spectrum that is unused at any given place and time, "pointing to inefficiencies in the traditional way of allocating spectrum."

For that reason and others, Microsoft advocates the rule-based approach. The company's support for that concept is hardly surprising, given its long-time advocacy for license-exempt TV white space (TVWS) in the United States and globally.

Though Thanki's paper mainly addresses negotiations going on within Europe, issues he discusses are also being debated within the United States as the FCC considers how to free up 100 MHz in the 3.5 GHz band for small cells. A proposal from Qualcomm in that proceeding is based upon Authorized Shared Access (ASA), which is similar to LSA.  The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) is working to standardize ASA/LSA technology.

To support the call for more license-exempt spectrum allocations, Thanki contends that during the past 20 years, license-exempt technologies have come to "account for the majority of innovation" in wireless communications.

Device sales unlicensed spectrum

Sales of devices incorporating popular licensed and license-exempt technologies. (Source: "The case for permissive rule-based Dynamic Spectrum Access," Aug. 2013)

"In 2013 fewer than 2.5 billion devices will be sold that incorporate licensed connectivity and nearly all of these will also feature complementary license-exempt technologies. However, at least 2.5 billion devices will be sold that use license-exempt communication technologies exclusively. This disparity is set to increase," Thanki said.

Saying Wi-Fi carries 69 percent of total traffic generated by smartphones and tablets and 57 percent of total traffic generated by PCs and laptops, he noted, "Overall the volume of Internet data traffic delivered by license-exempt Wi-Fi exceeds that of cabled connections and licensed mobile networks combined."

In the absence of Wi-Fi, Thanki said, some 150,000 to 450,000 new base stations would be needed to cope with smartphone traffic. Wi-Fi networks will save mobile operators from needing to make an investment of $30 billion to $93 billion this year alone, he added.

Similarly, Beveridge said, "The attendant economic benefits from license-exempt technologies are substantial, widely dispersed, and likely to exceed $270 billion per annum globally."

For more:
- see this Microsoft blog entry and this report

Related articles:
Ofcom explores spectrum sharing to meet mobile data demands
Google, AT&T jointly push for greater access to 3.5 GHz band for small cells
Report recommends more 5 GHz spectrum for Wi-Fi
The looming conflict over spectrum sharing
FCC unleashing more 5 GHz spectrum for 'Gigabit Wi-Fi'
FCC: 3.5 GHz will become the small cell band
3.5 GHz spectrum sharing effort could take years to produce results

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