Spectrum, a catalytic component of the Middle East economy

Spectrum a catalytic component

The latest research by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), highlights that spectrum makes up 3.4% of GDP for the highest 20 ICT nations from a number of sources which include employment, non-oil revenue, technological adoption and investment deployment.

The range of frequencies from 3 kilohertz (KHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz) that carries radio signals and enables wireless connectivity is known as the electromagnetic spectrum. Typically, publicly managed on a national level, its availability is scarce and much sought after.

Connectivity is the bread and butter of countries striving to grow and nurture their digital economies and boost digital inclusion. The new BCG report, aptly titled, ‘The Coming Battle for Spectrum’ brings discourse of spectrum re-purposing and management to the fore as fit-generation wireless connectivity launches in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. The report also highlights the rise of new technologies such as low orbit satellites, drones, autonomous vehicles, IoT, etc. and details how their emergence will increase the race for spectrum grabbing, as electromagnetic spectrum becomes a matter of national interest.

 “As the demand for connectivity increases, the additional spectrum will become a prerequisite for meeting these needs in the new digital economy. Electromagnetic spectrum plays a key role in this context, as an enabler of future innovation,” said David Panhans, Managing Director and Partner at BCG.

There are many future possibilities for spectrum – brought to light, with the emergence of new use cases and innovation. This is particularly relevant in the Middle East, where the adoption of new technologies and diverse economies are critical for the agenda of a number of countries. As an example, the Internet of Things networks are currently powering industry 4.0; unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are changing the face of logistics; and private 5G networks are changing the dynamics of the telecom industry.

There are significant economic benefits of facilitating access to spectrum. In addition to enabling larger capacity and higher download speeds than in existing networks, it helps network operators to meet growing traffic demand and secure good user experience,” said Thibault Werle, Managing Director, and Partner at BCG.

Spectrum Management is a Matter of National Interest

Rapidly increasing international demand presents a challenge for spectrum scarcity. However, the conventional and traditional ways of allocating spectrum have created multiple challenges to be addressed in the dawn of the digital era.

The report by BCG’s report identifies three key areas:

Acting on the Competing Demand by Identifying and Managing Tradeoffs:

Contending demands from multiple users and sectors for similar spectrum bands highlight the necessity to understand the overlapping and conflicting needs of users. Suboptimal allocations may increase the risk of disruption and interference and make it difficult for users to share the same bands, limit the benefits of economies of scale, and delay the adoption of new and emerging technologies, negatively affecting various economic sectors. To find a solution for these issues, countries have to find a way to assess the value of each assignment, not only to the user, but also to the broader population, where there is a wide range of efforts that should be deliberated:

  • Commercial uses, such as those pursued by 5G telecom networks and commercial satellite companies.
  • Foster innovative uses, possibly by assigning unlicensed spectrum to technologies like next-generation WIFI or IoT networks.
  • Accommodate national civil uses, such as the needs of first responders, and safeguard national interests, such as by allocating spectrum when it is needed for security uses.

Developing the Next-Generation Spectrum Management Framework

As a result of the constantly changing supply and demand, countries should implement a solid strategy for spectrum. This dictates the need for a thorough understanding of the trends that affect spectrum, the priorities of spectrum users and an awareness of the supply itself. Spectrum managers should be aware of the following:

  • More Sophisticated and Multidisciplinary Regulatory Tools. New policies and streamlined procedures must fit the current demand and cater to future uses. The best ones will decrease overhead and free up spectrum management resources so that they can be used for the economic, social, and legal aspects of spectrum management.
  • Demand Mapping and Forecasting. Spectrum planning and allocation must take a forward-looking approach, which requires conducting a broad impact assessment across various dimensions, including technology, the economy, public and social services, and national interests. The goal is to ensure the accessibility of spectrum for both new and existing users
  • Responsive Authorization and Licensing. To handle the rapidly evolving needs of the ecosystem, the models used to assign spectrum bands must move away from the traditional fee-for-usage authorization.

Enabling a Stronger Spectrum Ecosystem

A set of key enablers are required to efficiently transition spectrum managers to a more strategic role, rather than a traditional admin role. Such enablers includeengagement and open communication, market-oriented rules and regulations, broader skill sets, and emerging technologies:

  • Engagement and Open Communication. Spectrum management today is very different, with new models for spectrum use and new allocation mechanisms. In such an environment, decision making requires collaboration and transparency.
  • Market-Oriented Rules and Regulations. By updating rules and procedures for the new environment, countries can give their spectrum manager the authority to apply and enforce radio frequency regulations and secure national agreement on its mandate. In decentralized, market-oriented approaches, the spectrum manager should have the authority to maintain optimal spectrum usage by assessing competing uses and to act as arbiter and enforcer in disputes.
  • Broader Skill Sets. An expanded portfolio of skill sets and tools is needed to manage more than the traditional technical nature of radio frequency allocation. Also, to keep an eye on national interests, spectrum management must involve cross-border agreements and international coordination, for which international law or policy specialists may be required.
  • Emerging Technologies. New technologies make it possible to rethink the approaches taken by spectrum managers and the tools they use. Imagine IoT sensors, mobile devices, connected vehicles, and other electronic devices forming an ad hoc network that can leverage blockchain-based databases with current spectrum usage. Then imagine it with an AI layer that can predict demand variations, optimize sharing conditions, and vary prices in real-time.

Countries should adopt a new, flexible, and forward-looking model before their spectrum is locked up by legacy contracts that make it difficult, and perhaps even impossible, to accommodate innovations or essential services in a timely fashion. Countries that fail to respond may forego the economic benefits of spectrum. Reshuffling the spectrum in the future may be too costly owing to sunk investments in equipment and the deployment of systems—or it may be too late to capitalize on industries’ digital transformations.” said Faisal Hamady, Principal at BCG.

Given the vast economic potential at stake, a new approach to management and regulation needs to accommodate these new use cases. It’s within all nations’ best interests to effectively recalibrate how the management of this finite, yet valuable resource is handled,” concluded Rüdiger Schicht, Managing Director and Senior Partner, BCG Zurich.