Technical Principles of Spectrum Allocation

53 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2013 Last revised: 31 Mar 2017

Date Written: 2013


Spectrum allocation and management is an ongoing process that will benefit from guidance by a set of fundamental technical principles. Historically, spectrum allocation has been an ad hoc, piecemeal system driven by the logic of the moment: in most cases, a commercial enterprise or government agency with a need requested an allocation, and if the regulator agreed, it allocated the best available fit from the inventory. In other cases, spectrum assignment has been initiated by the regulator itself, either to good effect or otherwise.

The result of 80 years of ad hoc allocation is a system in which neighboring allocations sometimes pose tremendous burdens on each other, particularly in cases where high-power systems adjoin low-power ones. Such allocation errors give rise to intractable disputes over spectrum usage rights. Market dynamics are helpful, but not altogether sufficient to create a system of rational allocation as each player maximizes its own interests, which in the short term preserve inefficient allocations in the overall frequency map.

A more rational system of spectrum assignment would respect the principles that are evident in the operation of actual high-demand, high-performance, and high-efficiency wireless networks and in the trajectory of near-term spectrum research and development. In brief, these principles are:

1. Upgrade and Repack: When upgrades to existing systems will free up spectrum for additional uses, as was the case in the DTV transition, require the upgrade and reassign the excess.

2. Strive for Sharing: Prefer assignments that serve multiple users, as general-purpose commercial networks do, over those for single users, as some government systems do.

3. Reward Application Flexibility: Prefer assignments that support a variety of applications over those that support a single application.

4. Optimize Dynamic Capacity Assignment: Prefer networks that allow capacity to be adjusted on demand to those that allocate capacity statically.

5. Permit Technology Upgrade Flexibility: Allow technology upgrades without permission and with a minimum of coordination.

6. Recognize Aggregation Efficiency: Prefer large allocations over small ones to minimize guardband losses.

7. Create Facilities-Based Competition: Allocate spectrum to multiple systems of the same general kind in order to create market competition and technical resiliency.

8. Reward High-Performance Receivers: Favor systems of high-performance receivers over those that can’t tolerate common sources of RF noise, and penalize low-performance receivers.

9. Allocate in All Relevant Dimensions: Allocate “patches” of spectrum by frequency, power level, place, transmission direction, beam spread, modulation, coding, and time.

10. Promote New Technologies: Use rules modification and market transactions rather than exclusive allocation as a means of enabling future generations of spectrum technologies.

These allocation principles flow from empirical knowledge of the nature of spectrum, the current state of the art in radio engineering, and the likely timeline of new developments in radio engineering.

They are complemented by an analysis of research initiatives on spectrum utilization that may make the entire enterprise of spectrum allocation by regulators moot.

Keywords: Spectrum, Regulation, Dynamic Spectrum Allocation, Regulatory Principles, Radio Frequency Research

Suggested Citation

Bennett, Richard, Technical Principles of Spectrum Allocation (2013). TPRC 41: The 41st Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy. Available at SSRN: or

Richard Bennett (Contact Author)

High Tech Forum ( email )

869 S. Cole Dr.
Lakewood, CO 80228
United States
415-967-2900 (Phone)


Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics