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'Spectrum revolution is the end of scarcity'

'Spectrum revolution is the end of scarcity'

The industry must embrace new sharing techniques to drive spectrum efficiency, whilst still protect incumbent services, or waste time on 'battles of scarcity' according to Kalpak Gude, President of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance.

Industry analysts in Africa agree, but add that appropriate management and investment is critical if the continent is to benefit from scale.

Speaking at the Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC) annual conference in Hawaii, Gude said spending energy on 'battles of scarcity' would diminish the possibilities of the future wireless world.

Gude believes the spectrum revolution and dynamic spectrum sharing is a solution to overcome the focus on limits and will be at the heart of the future 5G world.

"Low-band, mid-band, and high-band spectrum, each with its own strengths, will need to be available and abundant. Dynamic spectrum sharing, with a regulatory structure embracing unlicensed and lightly-licensed regulations, is the only way to satisfy these growing spectrum requirements. In turn, this will enable the IoT and provide connectivity anywhere and everywhere to bring the benefits of the connected future to the four billion that currently are not part of the global conversation," he said.

Richard Hurst, Director – Enterprise Research at Africa Analysis, agrees and believes there is a need to focus on unlocking the mobile broadband potential of the region and central to this debate is the efficient allocation of high demand spectrum.

"However, we need to ensure that the spectrum is used appropriately with the appropriate investment behind it to ensure that the countries benefit from the scale, while at the same time we need to foster an open and competitive environment," says Hurst.

He believes the challenge for Africa is that the auction process is regarded as the more simple and straightforward mechanism for the allocation of the spectrum and ensures that it is in the right hands. "Probably what we will see is spectrum sharing undertaken on a commercial basis with operators undertaking such initiatives for mutual benefit. However, the form and shape of this sharing remains unclear."

BMI-TechKnowledge telecoms sector specialist Tim Parle says there is little doubt that policy makers, regulatory authorities, operators and vendors need to think smarter to satisfy the demand for wireless services – particularly fast, wide-area wireless broadband.

"Sharing is a modern necessity and we (man) have the technology, computing power and intelligence to do this. We understand well the physics of wireless propagation, and have advanced techniques to estimate it (software systems with complex algorithms), and hence where the same spectrum can be reused. Wireless technology has evolved with flexible radio systems (unlike the fixed frequency systems of the past). With this spectrum can certainly be dynamically shared," he says.

Many operators will favour the 'light touch' approach to spectrum allocation and sharing, Hurst adds.

Spectrum management

The issue of spectrum management, particularly in terms of digital migration, has made headlines in specific regions in Africa, specifically Nigeria.

In October 2016 Nigeria's Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said the West African country was aiming to raise US$1 billion from the sale of broadcast spectrum frequency.

In June the same year the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) declared MTN as the winner of an auctioned ten-year frequency spectrum licence for the 2.6GHz band.

Segun Ogunsanya, CEO and MD of Airtel Nigeria, has appealed to authorities to formulate regulations that would enable telcos to share spectrum and active infrastructure.

Ogunsanya says this will minimise duplication, reduce proliferation of infrastructure and facilities, promote fair competition because of equal access to spectrum and infrastructure, and minimise CAPEX that would ordinarily be required to acquire facilities.

Hurst believes regulators are waiting to see what happens and this will give them an opportunity to tailor unique local approaches that are "designed to grow their markets in an open and competitive manner."

Parle adds, "Spectrum auctions and spectrum sharing could be used to allow several operators to exist. We can no longer afford to allow spectrum to lie fallow in areas when we can be creative and reutilise the spectrum."

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