Macquarie Uni's bid to solve billion-dollar spectrum puzzle

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Macquarie Uni's bid to solve billion-dollar spectrum puzzle

Prepares new centre of excellence.

Macquarie University’s engineering school has warned that the wireless technology industry could soon face a crisis without new approaches to regulating radio spectrum.

The university told iTnews it was working on establishing a centre of excellence to tackle important questions around managing the resource, which is worth billions to industry, as it warned of an impending spectrum crunch.

CSIRO-Macquarie University wireless communications chair Professor Stephen Hanly said the centre of excellence was seeking to work with regulators like the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to tackle the problem.

Hanly pointed out that demand for mobile data was currently doubling every 18 months, and recent research had valued the world’s spectrum at $US177 billion over the next 15 years.

“There’s not enough spectrum for all future applications. That’s really what’s driving the concept of the centre. To meet future demand we must overcome current inefficient use of licensed spectrum and unlock new spectrum,” Hanly said.

Shared spectrum such as wi-fi would suffer the most and become what Hanly described as a modern day example of the “tragedy of the commons”.

Smaller commercial operators unable to afford private spectrum would deplete the shared resource, he warned.

“People who use wi-fi and find there’s no coverage because of interference will know what we’re talking about,” Hanly said.

The university is proposing to reform current spectrum regulation by giving economists a larger role in setting policy.

While telecommunications regulations bodies around the world currently use economists to set auction prices and value spectrum based on its commercial utility, Macquarie’s approach would also see spectrum evaluated for its social benefits.

“That’s the really exciting aspect - bringing engineering and wireless economics together,” Hanly said.

“We’re looking out further into the future than what is normally done in those organisations on a seven-year time frame and see what, with state-of-the-art technologies, would be possible under different regulatory regimes and at the same time what they would allow in terms of developing those technologies.

“As a research organisation we could take a longer view than they can take as bodies that have to deal with day-to-day issues of spectrum management."

A middle ground

Hanly said the current approach to spectrum regulation sat at two extremes: commercial auctions on one end and public park on the other.

He said there was room for a middle ground where spectrum with a commercial value may be able to be shared but monetised based on quality of service rather than absolute ownership.

That could lead to the creation of new kinds of auctions.

The university is examining number of private and public funding channels, including Optus and other major carriers.

It is also prepared to provide a portion of the funding depending on the level of in-kind support it can get from backers.

The university has approached the federal Department of Communications on the issue, which Hanly described as “supportive” of its aims.

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