When a mobile cellular licence is nearing the end of its term, successful reassignment of the spectrum relies heavily upon the regulator choosing a suitable instrument governed by the prevailing telecommunications policy. International best-practice recognises several possibilities: presumption to re-issue, clean slate or some hybrid approach.
Presumption of Re-issue
Under this approach, it is presumed that the service licence and some or all the spectrum granted with that licence will simply be extended/reissued to the current holder(s), barring specific reasons for not doing so. It may be based on a presumption in favour of renewal in the licence document or be determined by the regulator, even where no qualified “right” of the licensee to renewal exists.
The most profound criticism of this method is the adverse effect upon new entrants. The degree to which this concern applies depends, to a considerable extent, on the regulator’s long-term spectrum release plan and its ability to ensure opportunities for new competitive entry with access to the requisite spectrum.
Clean Slate - Hybrid
Since 5G should, in theory, open up countless number of services opportunities in various verticals, governments should develop level playing field policies encouraging new entrants into the market. Therefore, regulators may re-assign the spectrum in a process open to all interested parties within the regulatory parameters for its use. The incumbent holder of the assignment is expected to compete with any other competing applicant. As a result, this method of spectrum assignment can encompass the full range of administrative and market-based methods, including auction.
The ability of the regulator to recover and re-assign the spectrum without having to worry about an incumbent user and its present services has substantial implications in terms of spectrum planning. This approach or a hybrid variant should be progressed cooperatively with the industry lending itself to a longer period of consultation and discussion before the licences expiry dates.
Rationalisation requirement is generally aimed at devising band plans in alignment with technologies services/use cases bandwidth requirements. The determination of minimum block size is by no means a simple matter. As shown in the diagram below, there are a host of challenging issues that should be considered collectively in developing a long-term future proof rationalisation plan. The issues highlighted have different weights in different countries and there may be other national or regional factors that may have to be considered in the development process, e.g. cross border interference.