Improving Spectrum Regulation
Christopher DeJager, AMEC Technologies Limited.
Editor's note: The radio spectrum is a finite resource. National and regional agencies use automated frequency wave propagation models for evaluating frequency interactions when approving applications. These models use terrain, environment, and building data. In many countries, automated frequency management systems have been enhanced by incorporating GIS. The author describes how frequency management and the frequency application process, in particular, can be improved by adopting g.net, a collaborative, multiparticipant, network-based GIS architecture that lets both regulators and applicants share data and models.
Allocating Finite Resources
A telecommunications company designs the infrastructure and station frequency configuration for a new service in accordance with national guidelines and submits a formal application to that country's regulatory agency. The agency accepts the application and reviews the frequency configuration through a process called technical analysis. Technical analysis models the application design against the existing licensed stations to ensure that frequencies requested in the application do not cause interference with existing assignments. The results of the technical analysis allow the spectrum engineer to approve the new frequency allocation or suggest configuration changes.
Historically government regulators and telecommunication companies have played a game of approval/reject tennis. Applications were rarely approved on the first submission. Typically applications required technical corrections. Even after the application was corrected and resubmitted, there was no guarantee that reanalysis would not require more corrections caused by frequency assignments to other companies that were made during the interval between the rejection of initial submission and the resubmission of the corrected application.
The incredible demand for spectrum usage drove government regulatory agencies to deploy semiautomated frequency management software. This software helps collect technical information, analyze spectrum conflicts, perform spectrum planning, monitor frequencies, manage licensing, and collect and manage fees associated with other related activities. Every aspect of frequency management can be improved by the use of spatial informationnot only the application approval process but all spectrum management operations within a country.
Adding GIS to the Process
A systems architecture that was developed for the Geography Network, g.net addresses a specific set of requirementsdata coordination, Internet interoperability, local area network (LAN) applications, and distributed disconnected applications. With seamless work flow interoperability, this architecture lets users employ applications anytime, anywhere, on any data. The configuration of this architecture can be tailored to the data and users in an organization.
The component-based architecture of g.net supports frequency management as well as the application process. Sharing information between the spectrum regulator and the telecom applicant significantly benefits both parties. The telecom applicant wants rapid approval of the application so it can begin building infrastructure and generating revenue. The spectrum regulator wants to streamline the application process and gain licensing fees as quickly as possible. To achieve their goals, both parties need information on the current state of the spectrum. Incorporating GIS and g.net architecture can improve information sharing.
The Malaysia Communication and Multimedia Commission (CMC) recently deployed a GIS framework that uses ArcSDE, ArcView 3.x, and ArcIMS. Enhancements, extensions, and process interfaces allow this GIS framework to interact with Spectrocan's Automated Frequency Management System (AFMS) software. [Spectrocan is an AMEC company. AMEC is a leading international provider of services and engineering solutions to infrastructure, manufacturing, and process industries.] AFMS is used to manage the frequency application process including the technical analysis of proposed stations and associated financial transactions, incorporate government policies, issue licenses, and monitor the spectrum. The following sections provide an overview of how ArcSDE, ArcView 3.x, and ArcIMS were adapted to CMC's requirements.
Data for spatially referenced frequency assignments and the associated national mapping coverage required the use of ArcSDE as the data warehouse. Data shared by the frequency management system (FMS) and GIS framework is maintained on a real-time basis. ArcSDE API software components, residing as serverside services, monitor the status of more than 40 frequency attributes stored in the FMS. These monitoring components, called active agents, assess the state of systems across the entire network. When a frequency is added or a frequency attribute changes, ArcSDE updates the data in real time.
In addition to active agents, other serverside components provide spatial functionality. These components can calculate technical values based on the location of the frequency assignment; calculate frequencies required for international coordination or notification based on proximity to other national borders; calculate local variability taking into account changes in elevation over a given area for a frequency; and access frequency climatic area values. FMS furnishes these calculations and values and saves the user the time and trouble of generating or researching them.
All components that interact with ArcSDE utilize the projection engine objects in the ArcSDE API because FMS data is usually kept in geographic coordinates. ArcSDE maintains data in an appropriate grid coordinate system to facilitate data extraction for use with ArcView 3.x.
Although it can be argued that the mathematical models for spectrum engineering and frequency design are the same, these models are used differently. The analyses done by spectrum engineers and frequency design engineers differ in technique and purpose. The frequency design engineer wants to improve the efficiency of the individual frequency network. The spectrum engineer is concerned with the impact of the design on the operations of existing stations. Consequently, the GIS framework for telecom uses both spectrum management frequency analysis and telecom frequency design models and supplies the tools for each type of analysis.
Custom cellular planning and technical analysis tools were built on ArcView 3.x and its extensions, ArcView Spatial Analyst and ArcView 3D Analyst. These tools, delivered as ArcView 3.x extensions, let spectrum engineers perform analyses that are consistent with the analyses done by the frequency design engineer. These analyses include terrain profiling, field strength predictions, and prediction of interference between stations.
ArcIMS gives enterprisewide access to maps and frequency assignments. ArcIMS is a Web-based technology that lets regulators give a telecom applicant access to information that will help identify potential conflicts with existing frequency assignments before the application is submitted. This ensures a higher rate of first submission acceptance that benefits the applicant and regulator. Rapid application approval shortens development time and hastens revenue generation. The spectrum regulator can approve applications more easily and generate revenue by charging for online access to this information.
An Evolving System
ArcSDE, ArcView 3.x, and ArcIMS form a solid foundation for GIS use in a telecom enterprise. Government agencies as well as applicants can directly benefit from automation and the use of g.net architecture. The functionality of component software deployed within the g.net structure will continue to evolve and allow existing technologies to be adapted to new uses.
Currently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States and Industry Canada [formerly know as the Department of Communications in Canada] both provide Internet access to low-level security frequency assignments. At agency Web sites, users can perform searches based on frequency ranges and other parameters. The results can be viewed online or downloaded. Frequency assignment information is only available in ASCII format and requires reformatting before it can be used with GIS software.
Deploying ArcIMS would let these governments provide information that could be searched by delineated area and frequency range and provide the resulting data in a GIS-ready, shapefile format. Access to Map Services based on frequency assignments would make that information readily available to ArcGIS applications in real time and give network design engineers direct access to existing frequency allocations. Regulatory agencies have been giving greater access to frequency information, and using g.net to manage the application process would complement this trend.
As more spectrum regulators and telecom companies work closely to optimize the use of the radio finite spectrum, GIS will play a key role in streamlining the application process, analyzing technical scenarios, and providing access to information critical to enterprise operations.
For more information on GIS use with automated frequency management, read "Using Spatial Information to Enhance Radio Frequency Management," a paper presented by the author at the 2001 Esri International User Conference that is available at the Esri Web site.
About the Author
Chris DeJager has worked in information technology for more than 10 years and has spent the last five years working with GIS technology in an enterprise setting. He has worked on projects in the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, and Malaysia. He has provided consulting services to Spectrocan, an AMEC company, and assisted in the creation of the GIS framework for Spectrocan's Automated Frequency Management System.