Radio Spectrum Management is a process of administering the Radio Spectrum under the framework of international treaties, existing national Law, spectrum policies and associated operational procedures. In short, spectrum management is concerned with determining who gets access to how much spectrum, for what purpose or purposes, and under what terms and conditions.
The regulated spectrum in Malawi effectively ranges between 9 KHz – 100 GHz. It should be noted that the management of spectrum should be effective as its use is also essential to government functions ranging from defence and public safety to air traffic control and weather forecasting. Spectrum Management is essential for maintaining access to radio spectrum for all users. Under the Communications Act 2016, MACRA is charged with the responsibility of spectrum planning; creating new allocations, fulfilling frequency planning coordination and assignments, issuing licences, regulating and administering the use of radio frequencies; and the monitoring and enforcement procedures. It is further responsible for establishing regulations, frequency fees structure, technical parameters and standards governing the use of each band ensuring that current international regulations are met.
Spectrum Management also takes into account economic, political, cultural, health and social considerations so as to deal with the ever increasing demand for the supply of available radio spectrum.
Generally, Spectrum Management aims at;
- Providing access to basic communication services to all Malawians through the use of available technologies i.e. wireless.
- Ensuring effective utilization with equitable access.
- Accommodating future needs and requirements by careful planning
- Harmonizing national and regional best practices with international trends
- Enhancing socio-economic growth of Malawi through better spectrum pricing
MACRA is putting in place spectrum management policies that must are flexible and responsive to the needs of the market, recognizing that each class of spectrum user has different requirements. For example, promoting the use spectrum -efficient technologies, such as narrow band transmission, trunking between cells with high mutual traffic loads and digital signaling, can sometimes relieve crowding in the mobile radio frequencies thereby addressing the challenges in the way the radio frequency spectrum is managed.
Principles of Assignment
Depending on the type of service to be licensed, frequencies shall be assigned based on “first-come, first-served” basis so long as frequencies are available and that the licensing requirements are satisfied. When spectrum shortage is anticipated or when specific government goals are being pursued to foster competition in a particular business sub-sector or for other specific reasons, this approach may be dropped and selection procedures adopted to ensure that spectrum is efficiently and effectively utilized. In situations of spectrum shortages, preference will also be given to those providing greater public benefits, the spectrum utilization and overall efficiency irrespective of date of receipt of the applications concerned.
Other assignment types that can be followed include Spectrum Auction, Beauty Contest, Spectrum Trading e.t.c.
All users of frequencies shall be required to pay a fee, including Government Agencies or departments except those that are exempt from paying the applicable fees. The fees paid upon registration shall be renewable annually at a rate to be specified under the licence conditions. The price charged for the spectrum assigned will among other factors be dependent on such factors as frequency band, bandwidth, congestion, coverage area, geographical area, uni or bi directional, shared or not shared, market factor (for Vsat), and also hopmin for point to point links.
The price that is charged for the spectrum will as much as practically possible be proportional to the derivable benefits and level of usage within the band
Exempt / Waiver categories
Any waiver in part or in full of spectrum fees will only apply under the appropriate legislation and any regulations made there under. Exempt categories, i.e. ISM band (2.4 GHz, 5.8 GHz) shall nevertheless be required to pay a registration fee determined by the Authority.
MACRA on a regular basis will review utilization of the spectrum in response to present, emerging and future needs. The plans will be based on the technological and other needs of the country especially in the area of universality. Particular attention will be drawn to promoting and making available the spectrum for use in wireless technologies to be used in rural and under-served communities. This process shall facilitate opening of new bands and re-allocation of frequency spectrum to operators if found necessary to ensure effective and efficient use of the frequency spectrum.
MACRA shall take into consideration all relevant key stakeholders in the sector during any review process as well as international radiocommunication conferences i.e. The World Radio Conference (WRC) where major spectrum decisions are taken. In terms of planning, critical issues that are considered include;
- ITU Table of Allocation (especially for Region 1).
- Regional Frequency Allocation Plan (SADC region).
- National Frequency Band Plan.
- Technology Neutrality.
- Universal Access / Service requirements.
- Frequency re-farming options.
- Government / Security operations.
- Public Safety and Disaster Preparedness.
- Coordination needs with neighbouring countries (Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia).
MACRA continually monitors the usage of the spectrum through the Frequency Management & Monitoring (FMM) equipment that has remote monitoring stations distributed within the country.
This is done to ensure;
- Compliance to specified technical operating standards.
- Resolving cases of harmful interference.
- Eliminating illegal / unlicensed operations in the sector.
- Protecting licensees within the framework of legal operation.