The Vital Role of Connectivity During Crisis

Why spectrum access is important, now more than ever, to meet economic, social and educational needs to people worldwide

In uncertain times such as these where many people are taking steps to self-isolate to protect themselves and others around them, it is more important than ever to come together in support of one another. The DSA has long advocated for seamless, worldwide connectivity to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to access the digital economy and the vital resources that it offers and now, more than ever, this is our dedicated mission. Stable and wide-reaching connections are crucial, both socially and individually, to improve quality of life and bring communities together. In a time of crisis, this is no exception; in fact, it is emphasized.

Just a few decades ago, such a pandemic would have a catastrophic impact on the lives of millions. The ability to continue working or maintain access to vital services and amenities would be near non-existent. Despite the current COVID-19 crisis, we are lucky to have come so far in broadband capabilities so that we are able to upkeep any sense of normalcy and remain in touch with the outside world and one another – this cannot be taken for granted. Without the technological advancements we have seen in recent years, this pandemic would be an even greater struggle than we are facing currently.

In order to better-prepare and reduce the negative impact upon individuals and their communities world over, affordable network should be prioritized. In order to do so, the DSA encourages National Regulatory Authorities to support smaller providers that serve these communities with access to shared and unlicensed spectrum in offering free access to spectrum bands on a license-exempt or tiered basis. Taking this action will help to facilitate terrestrial and non-terrestrial emergency communications and affordable broadband access for those that are vulnerable and otherwise isolated. For more information, read our full official statement here.

Feeling the Disconnect

As self-isolation rules are put in place, there is a concern towards those with a lack of internet access. People are unable to keep up to date with vital news and medical bulletins that are transmitted sporadically during these times and also keep in contact with society, relatives and friends.

Lacking suitably reliable broadband also impacts employees and students, with many subjected to lay-offs due to their inability to continue working or learning from home. With those unable to continue their daily routines continuing to travel into populated spaces to earn an income and access other resources, the risk to physical and mental health is significant.

Physically Isolated, Digitally Social

To support the spike in data traffic on Wi-Fi networks as a result of self-isolation, spectrum must be made abundant. Stronger, more reliable networks have been proven crucial in maintaining a normal way of life, with the need for better connections being more urgent than ever. Remote alternatives have been saviors in both the social and corporate world, but to do so smoothly requires a stable foundation for connectivity. Internet access is no longer a luxury and should not be taken for granted as we utilize the latest technology to work and learn from home without interruption.

In remote regions, where connectivity is scarce and unused spectrum is often abundant, communities are coming to a halt and daily life is not possible to upkeep. Whilst a seeming inconvenience to those more fortunate, the context in which they are disconnected makes for a dangerous lifestyle. We are all suffering in these unprecedented times, but those who are isolated without any connectivity have it the worst. Not only cut off from family and friends, but having their health put at risk as they miss breaking news updates, changes in protocol and medical advice. Connectivity lies at the heart of public policy in many countries world over. To improve the strength of these connections, national authorities must act now to accelerate the ongoing progress towards network upgrades and enable more access to unlicensed spectrum. With a solid internet connection, people can remain connected for the wellbeing of one another and work together to ensure that vital services and information are delivered.

Stronger in Synergy

The DSA has always held core values of collaboration and the belief that movements are driven by synergy. This crisis has proved no exception, and we would like to take this opportunity to celebrate our members who are currently carrying out urgent initiatives to realize the potential of better connections during these times to aid those in need. For example, Loon is currently demonstrating how innovative solutions are providing connectivity to Kenya with balloons to strengthen national networks and future-proof their infrastructure.

Microsoft Airband partners are also taking steps to provide essential broadband services and support the rural communities they serve during this time. Committed to the FCC’s ‘Keep Americans Connected Pledge’, they are facilitating access to distance learning, telework and telemedicine by waiving any customer late fees, donating telecommunications equipment and opening Wi-Fi hotspots. Gigabit Library Network are also providing Wi-Fi hotspots outside libraries to provide access to public information to millions of families in the US.

The example made by the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that, in future, spectrum availability must be ensured and accessible worldwide. To deliver this, it is imperative that dynamic spectrum access technologies are readily deployed for the use of everyone, especially underserved people. These values epitomize the work of the DSA: to encourage the adoption of beneficial regulations which instigate the availability of more accessible and affordable internet.

Spectrum sharing for inclusive connectivity

In recent years we have witnessed our modern global digital ecosystem thrive. With the development of new technologies, infrastructure and new innovations, our daily lives and industries across the world have benefitted from the economic and social benefits that connectivity allows. In the next year it is expected that demand will create 25 billion connected devices by 2021, according to Gartner.

With this unprecedented demand, internet traffic is increasing, and yet, 4 billion people in the world are without access to broadband. To ensure everyone can access and benefit from the digital economy, spectrum must be shared efficiently to accelerate an inclusive digital economy which also supports innovation for next generation broadband.

High capacity and low latency connectivity are the new standards for connectivity. Many IoT devices and new applications such as Augmented and Virtual Reality require this performance. To fully meet these demands there is currently a shortage of license-exempt spectrum, however spectrum can be made abundant if used efficiently.

To enable more dynamic spectrum access, synergies across the industry are being formed to implement new dynamic spectrum sharing technologies and regulations which can provide further unlicensed access to spectrum. Dynamic spectrum sharing methods and technologies help to make more efficient use of spectrum by sharing its resources more widely. With more unlicensed spectrum available to be shared, more people, devices, industries and sectors can access greater connectivity throughput to enable the world’s full potential for economic growth and innovation.

The DSA’s mission is to advocate for effective spectrum sharing technologies which enables the co-ordination of dynamic spectrum access. So far, the innovation of regulatory frameworks adopted by regulators across the world have enabled spectrum bands to be shared with users whilst also protecting incumbent operations.

For example, TV whitespace (TVWS) frameworks have been crucial to connect the unconnected and also increase spectrum capacity for IoT and broadband use cases. Those who have adopted the framework have enabled cost effective broadband deployment and long-range coverage in rural areas. TVWS also provides good building penetration that is critically important for IoT and smart city applications.

To also support high quality connectivity to 5G services, access to mid-band spectrum is vital to ensure high-throughput and low latency connectivity is delivered. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the US ensures intensive use of the mid-band spectrum through shared access that protects incumbent services. Earlier this year, CBRS was commercially deployed in the US for the first time using an innovative light-weight database to facilitate dynamic sharing in a 3-tiered framework.

Currently there is also adoption of shared spectrum in the 6 GHz band to also deliver high capacity connectivity to meet the increasing demand for Wi-Fi services that require larger channel bandwidths. Management of the band with technological frameworks can protect incumbent services while allowing greater access to Wi-Fi. Furthermore, it is important for regulators to include in their broadband strategies a trade-off between licensed and unlicensed spectrum, both are important and required for a successful 5G transition. The Federal Communications Commission aims to make use of the entire 6 GHz band and proposes to use a framework to provide license-exempt access to 1200 MHz of Spectrum which will transform entire sectors and new 5G applications.

All of these success stories for spectrum sharing has involved effective collaboration between regulators, innovators and the wider industry to adopt flexible frameworks which make more efficient use of spectrum. The DSA is committed to continuing to advocate for this action to be made to enable more people to benefit from an inclusive and thriving digital economy.

To hear more about this topic in Spanish, listen to the full TeleSemana webinar with DSA President, Martha Suarez, which explores the full opportunities, challenges and potential of global spectrum sharing technologies: https://bit.ly/2RfV8s3