ECC helps to bring more flexibility in the use of radio spectrum

To increase spectrum efficiency and maximise the benefits of its use to society, spectrum management in Europe is changing significantly from the traditional command-and-control approach to introduce market-based mechanisms. Also, technology and service neutrality are in the focus of the new regulation. This is a response to several forces, especially the rapid nature of technological development, and the understanding that regulators are not always the best people to pick winners in a commercial marketplace. The new regulatory models being implemented in Europe are largely based on the harmonised regulatory principles and technical conditions of use which are being developed in the groups of the CEPT ECC.

Among the different strands of work being carried out in CEPT ECC on the issue of increasing spectrum flexibility, ECC Reports 132, 137 and 169 developed in recent years by the ECC Regulatory Affairs Working Group (WG RA) describe relevant regulatory models and best practices.

The easier the access to the radio spectrum, the more efficiently and innovatively it can be used, provided the minimum necessary technical conditions are respected to limit the negative impacts of interference. That is why establishing common regulatory principles in this area and harmonising the associated terminology would significantly facilitate the work of CEPT administrations on developing and implementing national regulatory frameworks in the area of licensing.

ECC Report 132 focuses on the light licensing and licence-exempt models of authorisation of spectrum use and brings together the relevant national practices. It also establishes some reference terminologies shown in Table 1 below.

Individual authorisation
(Individual rights of use)

General authorisation
(No individual rights of use)

Individual licence1



Individual frequency planning / coordination

Traditional procedure for issuing licences

Individual frequency planning / coordination

Simplified procedure compared to traditional procedure for issuing licences

With limitations in the number of users

No individual frequency planning / coordination

Registration and/or notification

No limitations in the number of users nor need for coordination

No individual frequency planning / coordination

No registration nor notification

The findings of the Report are largely based on the survey conducted by WGRA in 2009 which aimed at gathering information on the most recent developments in the European national spectrum authorisation regulatory frameworks.

Typical examples of the licence-exempt applications referred to in the survey include most of the Short Range Devices (SRD) compliant with ERC/REC 70-03, Generic Ultra Wide Band (UWB) applications (defined in ECC Decisions (06)04 and (06)12), professional radios PMR446, Wi-Fi spots in the 5 GHz band, PR27 equipment (CB) and cordless telephony.

A more interesting part of ECC Report 132 deals with the so called 'light licensing' which appears to reside somewhere in between the licensing and licence-exempt models. The Report reveals that various types of 'light licensing' regimes implemented by the European countries are usually associated with some kinds of restrictions, either being maximum number of users in a given geographical area (the first-come-first-served principle) or restricted geographical area of operation (for example, 'general authorisation' throughout most of a national territory while some coordination zones may be subject to 'individual right of use'). At the same time, applications authorised under the 'light licensing' regime are normally permitted to use higher power than those under the licence-exempt regime. Many CEPT administrations consider 'light licensing' as a tool for national authorities to utilise IT systems and the Internet to simplify the licensing process for enterprises and other radio users.

Typical 'light licensing' applications mentioned by CEPT administrations in the WGRA survey included ground and wall probing radars (GPR/WPR imaging systems operating on non-interference, non-protected basis) and amateur and maritime VHF stations (indeed, although individual licences are issued in those cases, there is no need for individual frequency planning or coordination, and no prior limitation is placed on the number of users).

Another report developed by WGRA in 2010 (ECC Report 137) addresses from both regulatory and technical perspectives the issue of increasing flexibility, convergence and harmonisation in the current European regulatory framework.

The Report analyses 10 different models (including the Block Edge Mask (BEM) model already used in a number of ECC technical documents) which could be used to represent so-called 'technical licensing conditions'. It concludes that the most suitable model for representing the least restrictive technical conditions (LRTC) that provide optimum flexibility will depend on the licensing framework (i.e. General or Individual Authorisations). The models analysed in the Report were identified previously within the ECC as possible ways to provide the LRTC and they have been analysed within Spectrum Engineering Working Group (WG SE) (CEPT Report 019 on 'least restrictive technical conditions for WAPECS frequency bands') and WG RA (ECC Report 132 on 'light licensing, licence-exempt and commons').

By introducing more flexibility into the technical conditions associated with the national licence conditions, the Report suggests that some evolution in the way that corresponding Harmonised Standards are developed may need to be further considered within ETSI:

  • ETSI may continue to produce Harmonised Standards which could cover either technology neutral generic applications or be for a specific technology or application.
  • Harmonised Standards will have to show how the equipment under test would be able to meet the least restrictive technical conditions.

So there is now a toolkit of options for regulators. How flexible the spectrum 'rights of use' are depends on the regime chosen, together with final minimum technical conditions, and how these are reflected either in the individual licence conditions or exemption regulations.

The Report also points out that the recently developed guidelines by WG RA for Impact Assessment (see ECC Report 125) could be a useful tool to assess the relevant evidence in order to provide the justification for the degree of flexibility chosen.

The third and most recently approved report by WG RA ECC Report 169 puts together various national practices related to trading of spectrum usage rights.

This report, similar to the one on light licensing, is also based on a recent WGRA survey and contains a lot of interesting data on transactions in different frequency bands. It generally describes the typical transaction procedure in a European country as containing the following four consecutive steps:

  • notification of the intention to trade;
  • publication of notified information;
  • approval of transaction by the national authority, and
  • publication of the final transaction.

An important observation drawn in the Report is that significantly different transaction patterns (number of licences and number of transactions) are observed in different frequency bands. This suggests that competition issues may arise in different bands and could be treated according to the specific needs of the relevant applications. A toolbox to address such issues includes the possibility to refuse a transaction on competition grounds as well as requirements in the licences for the effective exploitation of the rights of spectrum use. Detailed analysis of such tools however was outside the scope of this Report and may be a subject of further work.

ECC Report 169 also includes a section on the leasing of spectrum usage rights which deals exclusively with the leasing transaction procedure.

In conclusion, ECC Reports 132, 137 and 169 contain a number of very useful tools for increasing flexibility of spectrum use in Europe which can be applied by CEPT administrations in developing their national regulatory frameworks. This is an important step in enabling the most efficient use of spectrum, not just nationally, but across Europe.

Stelios Himonas, Chair of the ECC Regulatory Affairs Working Group,
and Alexander Gulyaev, ECO Expert in Spectrum Management

¹Sometimes also referred to as 'traditional licensing'