The need to develop means of achieving more efficient spectrum use has led in recent years to a focus on cognitive radio system (CRS) technology. Also called "smart radio," "software defined radio," "dynamic access technology" and doubtless many other terms, one of the basic concepts is that the technology should allow more flexible and efficient spectrum use by identifying when frequencies are not in use by other applications, thus permitting the CRS devices to operate. We are seeing developments across the globe on this topic – which this entry briefly explores for the U.S., Europe and international perspective.

These developments and future potential for CRS will be explored at a conference coming up in Brussels, entitled "Towards an EU policy for Dynamic Spectrum Access." The event is scheduled for March 7, with a focus on shared spectrum access, key drivers for CRS use, and market and regulatory developments.

United States

There is a decade of experience with U.S. regulation of CRS applications. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission started looking at CRS over a decade ago, which led to a notice of proposed rulemaking adopted on December 17, 2003 to examine regulatory structures. That proposal in turn led to rules for CRS implementation adopted in March 2005 in ET Docket No. 03-108. 

One of the newer applications of CRS in the U.S. is for operation in so-called "white space" bands – unused spectrum between TV channels. The linkage between CRS and white spaces was recently drawn by FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell in a speech at the Palais D'Egmont in Brussels on November 7, 2011. (The HL Spectrum review has recently written about FCC rules for white spaces – see our October 28, 2011, entry.)


On the European side, the EU's Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG), which advises the Commission on policy, issued an opinion on CRS in November 2011. In addition, the new Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP), soon to be officially published, contains explicit encouragement to CRS.

We noted in a previous entry that the RSPP has been finally approved by the European Parliament. There are numerous references in the RSPP to CRS, including Recital 13 stating "[w]hile technologically still in development, so-called 'cognitive technologies' should already be further explored, including by facilitating sharing based on geolocalisation." Article 4 of the RSPP on "Enhanced efficiency and flexibility" provides that EU Member States shall foster collective use of spectrum, and foster development of CRS as well as new research and development into the technology.

The European Commission already has conducted a workshop on collective use, even before adoption of the RSPP. This is a clear priority for early work in Brussels. The Commission's Joint Research Center held a workshop on November 17-18, 2011, "to identify a roadmap for the development and use of SDR and CR in Europe, including the need for accelerated standardisation."


Recent activity has been substantial on the international level, with a new Resolution on CRS adopted by the ITU Radiocommunication Assembly in January followed by an ITU Recommendation at the recently concluded World Radio Conference 2012 (WRC-12).

The ITU Radiocommunication Assembly (RA) defines the questions and studies that the ITU community explores, which may lead to technical recommendations or further work in the radio conferences that set Radio Regulations. Already in 2007 the ITU had initiated studies on CRS in the mobile service, under Question ITU-R 241/1/5, and definitions are set out in a Report ITU-R SM.2152. The most recent RA met in Geneva from January 16 to 20 to adopt measures to continue the study and development activities. It adopted a new Resolution ITU-R 58 on studies for implementation and use of CRS. It resolved to continue these studies, giving particular attention to enhancing coexistence and sharing among radiocommunication services.

In a 'one-two punch', the WRC-12 that started days after the RA also focused new international attention on CRS. The WRC-12 adopted Recommendation COM6/1 (which will be renumbered now that the final acts have been released) to encourage administrations to participate actively in the studies carried out under the RA resolution. Notably, this recommendation states that studies on regulatory measures for CRS implementation are outside the scope of the new resolution.


These developments and more will be reviewed at the March 7 policy forum in Brussels. Full disclosure:  I will be moderating the afternoon sessions on "mapping the shape of a future shared spectrum market." The morning sessions will include the view from the European Commission, technology developments and outcomes from WRC-12. It also will deal with reports of recent tests on while space use. The afternoon focuses on the best combinations of technical and business approaches, and protecting existing users. We will provide further summaries of the event as it happens.