Radio Spectrum Management Policy: Revisiting the Debate

42 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2015 Last revised: 23 May 2016

See all articles by Mohamed El-Moghazi

Mohamed El-Moghazi

National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt (NTRA)

Jason Whalley

University of Northumbria at Newcastle

James Irvine

University of Strathclyde

Date Written: March 30, 2015


Scholars such as Hazlett, De Vries, and Noam extensively discussed a few years ago over which of three alternatives - spectrum markets, commons and easements - should be adopted to overcome the deficiencies of the command and control (C&C) approach to spectrum management. One common conclusion was that it is inevitable that countries would abandon C&C and move towards one or more of these alternatives. However, in most of the world, especially in the developing countries, radio spectrum is still managed along the lines of traditional government administration approach. It is, therefore, surprising that the reason why the C&C approach is still dominant has been overlooked.

To address such issue, this paper will seek to answer the following question: how do the international spectrum management stakeholders perceive the alternatives to the C&C approach? It will focus on the three main concepts - radiocommunication service allocation flexibility, technology neutrality, and easements in the TV white spaces (TVWS) - that are considered the main elements of spectrum markets, commons and easements. The paper adopts a qualitative inductive approach based on primary data collected from 86 semi-structured interviews with international stakeholders from mobile operators, manufactures, national regulators, broadcasters, TVWS industry and the ITU-R Bureau.

The paper is the first of its kind to highlight the views of those who formulate national spectrum policy in practice on the alternative approaches to C&C that have been advocated for many years in the literature with little empirical evidence.

Regarding service allocation flexibility, the data shows that there is a tendency to follow the non-obligatory international service allocation organised by the ITU-R to take advantage of global harmonisation and protect against interference. Regulators also have a tendency to have the upper hand when it comes to how spectrum as a resource is treated, with the self-regulated market not being favoured. The paper reveals that for different stakeholders, flexibility is the reverse of harmonisation. More specifically, flexibility is a way to change the service in use (e.g., broadcasting, fixed) to globally harmonised mobile service. Moreover, flexibility implies interference is not managed.

With respect to technology neutrality, there is a widespread acknowledgement of the merits of the concept. However, the theoretical technology neutrality advocated in the literature does not exist in reality as parameters used in defining technology neutrality are usually based on particular standards. Moreover, operators and regulators are mostly in favour of standardised technologies that are widely deployed and have pre-defined duplex modes (e.g., FDD) because being fully neutral increases the probability of interference, decrease harmonisation and complicates the design of equipment.

On the concept of easements in the TVWS, the interviews revealed that the additional mobile allocation in the 700 MHz and 800 MHz at WRC-12 and WRC-15 respectively in broadcasting spectrum has made TVWS a temporary deployment. In addition, the future use of the UHF band has become uncertain as the use of the band for mobile services will be decided by the time of WRC-15. Operators are in favour of exclusive access to spectrum to secure their investment and to ensure protection against interference. Regulators in developing countries, who often lack enforcement mechanisms, are concerned regarding the adoption of easements as non-exclusivity places additional management burdens on them. On the other hand, the paper revealed that approaches such as LSA are much favoured by operators and regulators because they accommodate more certainty as they are used in bands already identified for standardised technologies.

Note: The authors do not wish the proposal to be considered for presentation in the poster session.

Keywords: Spectrum, Commons, Easements, Market, Policy

Suggested Citation

El-Moghazi, Mohamed and Whalley, Jason and Irvine, James, Radio Spectrum Management Policy: Revisiting the Debate (March 30, 2015). TPRC 43: The 43rd Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy Paper. Available at SSRN: or

Mohamed El-Moghazi (Contact Author)

National Telecom Regulatory Authority of Egypt (NTRA) ( email )

Smart Village, B4.
Cairo Alex Desert Road

Jason Whalley

University of Northumbria at Newcastle ( email )

Ellison Place
208, City Campus East-1
Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 8ST
United Kingdom

James Irvine

University of Strathclyde ( email )

16 Richmond Street
Glasgow 1XQ, Scotland G1 1XQ
United Kingdom

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