Multimedia content delivery to mobile terminals: policies for radio spectrum usage

Francesco Conti


Mobile computing technologies are nowadays so developed that they are becoming interesting for the entertainment industry. The broad/narrow casting of entertainment and multimedia contents to mobile terminals is technically feasible.

Every transmission from and to a mobile terminal relies on the availability of radio spectrum. Radio spectrum is a finite resource. This means that there is not, nor can ever be, any guarantee that such resource can be made available to all who may wish to use it. Therefore the necessity to regulate the use of such resource clearly arises.

Regulation of the use of radio spectrum is not only a technical matter. It involves for the body in charge of regulation many social, economical and policy aspects to consider. Such issues may, in some cases, be conflicting. For instance, and generally speaking, letting the market grow competitive and free is clearly in conflict with the necessity of avoiding monopolistic positions. So many implications require, to the body in charge of regulation, to formalize precise concepts on how to serve the public interest before taking any regulative action. This paper intends to build a framework that can help in such task. Some ideas are derived from the past experience with traditional tv broadcast. Specific policy implementation suggestions, where given, apply to the italian reality.

The concept of public interest needs to be defined. I assume that there are three key terms that, when associated, describe better than others the notion of public interest: social security (prevention of social and economical degradation), freedom of choice (the possibility of autonomously choosing among different alternatives) and democracy (enhancing people power).

Having defined the notion of public interest, several issues pertaining to the broadcasting of digital multimedia contents can be more confidently discussed.

Competition. It seems impossible for the ruling authorities to determine which services are to be offered from the providers to the public. The rapid advancements of technologies are difficult to follow for the authority. So, how has the usage of radio spectrum to be regulated to let market forces effectively work? Several scenarios of licensed vs. unlicensed spectrum are discussed. The paper concludes that the best alternative is to license blocks of spectrum to transmission service providers and to put content providers (unlicensed) in reciprocal competition for the use of such spectrum.

Flexibility. Flexibility means the possibility to substitute undemanded services with more appetible ones. Moreover, it means the possibility for the authority to impose technical standards to be used. Several scenarios of permitted vs. not permitted service substitution and of imposed vs. free technical standards are discussed. The paper concludes suggesting to permit service substitution and in some measure to regulate the standards (to grant access to resources and to fill cultural gaps in different geographical areas).

Spectrum assignment and/or fee imposition. How to assign spectrum to one or another contender? Several approaches are possible: spectrum auctioning, assignment by lottery, equal division between contenders, consideration of the social utility of intended use, etc. Moreover, authorities can imposed fixed or proportional fees on the usage of spectrum, in consideration of how it is used. The implications of each of this policy are discussed in the paper. The paper concludes in favour of spectrum auctioning and suggests a mechanism to obtain complementary licenses from different countries for the case of transnational services.

Several other minor aspects of spectrum assignment policies are discussed.