Guideline: Spectrum Management Regulatory Functions, Skills, and Institutional Capacity

Minimal Spectrum Management Regulatory Functions, Skills, and Institutional Capacity


Spectrum management embodies four main areas of activity and related processes:

  • Planning;
  • Engineering;
  • Authorization, and
  • Monitoring

Spectrum planning processes provide direction and cohesion for policy formulation, supporting future steps to achieve optimal spectrum use. Spectrum planning facilitates decision-making by creating the basis for consideration and evaluation.  It charts the major trends and developments in technology and considers the needs of current and future users of the frequency spectrum.  Planning addresses the changing requirements of users of systems used by the spectrum manager to conduct frequency management activities such as monitoring systems, channel planning, and tools.

Spectrum engineering involves the use of engineering tools to assess information, capabilities, and technology choices that support spectrum management decisions affecting the allocation, allotment, and assignment of frequency spectrum.  Spectrum engineering identifies solutions to interference problems and determines the technical characteristics of equipment necessary to ensure compatibility between radio systems. Spectrum engineering involves the use of technical models and algorithms together with input information supplied by databases to perform the analysis needed to make frequency assignments.

Spectrum authorization involves the making of frequency assignments to identified applicants for relatively immediate use. The administration of frequency assignments – or licensing – contributes to the proper functioning of the regulator's spectrum management operations. Licensing allows for control of the operation of stations and the managed use of frequencies. Frequency assignment activities include analyzing requirements for proposed frequencies in accordance with national plans for frequency allocation. They include actions to protect radiocommunications systems from harmful interference.  Frequency assignment strategies will be used to achieve spectrum efficiency by, among other things, ensuring proper use and facilitating reuse.

Spectrum managers need the data collected through the spectrum monitoring process to complete their task. Data on spectrum occupancy should be collected with regard to authorized use and utilization, deviations from authorized parameters, and sources of interference, and location of legal and illegal transmitters. Spectrum management also requires that users comply with license requirements and with technical rules and regulations.  Without effective regulations and enforcement procedures, the integrity of the spectrum management process can be compromised.

Chart 1.0 lists the basic functions of spectrum management organizations described in the ITU Handbook on National Spectrum Management.

Spectrum Management Policy and Planning/Allocation of Spectrum
International Coordination
Spectrum Engineering
Frequency Assignment and Licensing
Standards, Specifications, and Equipment Authorization
Liaison and Consultation
Spectrum Monitoring and Control (enforcement and monitoring)
Computer Support
Administrative and Legal Support



In establishing an effective structure and organizing of functions, the Spectrum Manager should consider the nature of the task, how work is performed and which type of organization structure best suits the task. These dimensions of planning are discussed in the next few paragraphs.

In general, there are three different types of tasks characterizing spectrum management activities: Conceptual and Coordination Tasks, Routine Tasks, and Technical Tasks. These are briefly described below:

  • Conceptual and coordination tasks. These are associated with planning, coordination and consultation, and strategic initiatives, associated with international affairs consultation on spectrum planning matters.  
  • Routine tasks and methods are associated with licensing of radiocommunications, approval of radio equipment type, and routine monitoring.  These are guided by formal operating procedures and governed by well-defined rules. Routine tasks should be supported by clear administrative processes, which can be dramatically improved and made more cost-effective through the use of efficient information management systems. Quality of service can be improved by placing service points of presence close to clients and users;
  • Technical tasks require staff with extensive formal and methods-based training and experience.  Frequency assignment, technical standards, spectrum engineering, information systems, and radio monitoring are tasks that require these levels of training.  Core professionals/specialists work closely with clients and are largely independent of other staff in the spectrum authority.

In terms of manpower and task organization, work is often done using working groups involving a matrix organization, which represent smaller-scale, fluid, and temporary structures. Typically, a group of line managers, staff, and specialists will come together to work on a set of tasks. The effectiveness of the work effort and coordination with tasks with other teams will depend on clear communication, accountability and understanding of what needs to be accomplished and when.   

Factors such as geography, hierarchy and communications are important when choosing an organizational framework. For example, when establishing a new spectrum management capability, a choice of a centralized structure over a decentralized one may serve better when establishing standards, procedures, and maintaining close contact with main clients and stakeholders. Functions such as planning, coordination and corporate initiatives including strategy could remain centralized functions over time.

Table 1.0 provides a suggested approach combining task and structure.


- International Coordination
- Consultation
- Planning

Varies on Requirement
- Radio Licensing
- Spectrum Control
- Assignment
- Equipment Inspection
- Administration Management

Mainly centralized
Could be Decentralized
Mainly centralized
- Equipment Standards
- Equipment Testing
- Spectrum Planning
- Spectrum Engineering
- Legal
- Frequency Management Systems

Centralized or Distributed


Tasks and functions within a spectrum management organization should be organized into to two main organization units:

- Spectrum Planning and Engineering

- Spectrum Management Operations

Spectrum Planning and Engineering

The organizational unit providing technical support to SMO is Spectrum Planning and Engineering.  Planning and Engineering provides and develops expertise to ensure appropriate technology, standardized processes and procedures necessary for performing tasks and compliance with legislation and regulations.

Short-term planning activities are conducted on a number of broad fronts including consultation with ministries, public enterprises and stakeholders ensuring business and industry participation.  Formal outputs from the planning process include band plans for broadcast, microwave services and sub-allocation, channelling plans and technical standards for uses such as PCS, cellular bands and broad band services. Important planning documents prepared by Planning and Engineering which should  involve public consultation include the National Table of Frequency Allocations, Spectrum Release Plans, and Frequency Usage Forecasts.

The important spectrum management tasks associated with Planning and Engineering are:

  • planning and regulating the use of radio frequencies within the country;
  • establishing regulations, technical parameters, and standards governing the use of each frequency band or specific service, if applicable;
  • establishing processes to optimize the efficient use of the radio spectrum and procedures to  harmonize the operation of different services;
  • developing equipment specifications and conducting equipment certification in accordance with approved procedures;
  • developing frequency tolerances for approved equipment;
  • developing procedures for acceptable levels of transmitter emission; technical plans and procedures including sub-allocation plans;
  • developing procedures for in-band frequency assignment (engineered bands);
  • developing procedures and techniques for interference analysis and resolution;
  • developing procedures for band clearing and spectrum sharing;
  • evaluating and selection of engineering and technical analysis tools including propagation models and software such as geographic information systems;
  • conducting surveys and studies of spectrum use and of spectrum requirements for current and future services;
  • conducting studies and reviews of new technologies affecting spectrum requirements.

General Skills

Individuals in Planning and Engineering should possess engineering expertise in telecommunications, with 5-10 years experience in the field of radiocommunications technology and/or operations.

Specific Skills

Planning and organizing skills coupled with the ability to conduct consultations at both high and in-detail levels are crucial. Experience with current standards-making processes and radiocommunications technology standards and experience in radiocommunications technology operations and systems. Knowledge of the structure of the telecom and radiocommunications industry in the country and region is essential. Demonstrated management experience along with good writing and communications skills are necessary.

Spectrum Management Operations

Spectrum Management Operations, as a unit, combines most of the key functional activities identified in Chart 1.0 including Assignment and Authorization.

Frequency assignment and authorization activities are at the centre of traditional spectrum management. The assignment process includes analyzing the requirements for proposed radio services and assigning frequencies in accordance with national frequency-allocation plans. It includes related actions necessary to protect radiocommunications systems from harmful interference.  Frequency assignment strategies are used to achieve spectrum efficiency, including proper use and readily afforded reuse.

Procedures for initial assignment of frequencies can be highly technical. Analytical tools and methods are used to assign new frequencies or to resolve interference problems. To perform effectively where scarcity and congestion exist, the spectrum manager usually needs ready access to large amounts of reliable data on a ready basis. Procedures use data records for existing assignments and equipment, assignment coordination data on a regional or national basis, topographical data to aid computation of propagation-path profiles in urban area and over large areas that can be used in analytical and computational models for EMC results.

The general process for assignment follows the steps listed below.

1. Preparation of an ordered list of stations to be assigned;

2. Assign first frequency to first station using database lookup and EMC analytical techniques to resolve interference problems;

3. Select next station to be assigned using selection procedures. These include assignment grids, sub-allocation plans etc.;

4. Apply frequency-selection method including database look up and EMC analysis;

5. Repeat until all frequencies are assigned.

Reliability, accuracy, and assigning the necessary amount of frequency for a particular use require efficient access to complete information.

A summary of the main tasks typically performed by Spectrum Management Operations (SMO) include the following:

  • administering  radio frequency plans, coordinating and administering the use of radio frequencies within the country to various communication services performing technical coordination, and registering the assigned radio frequencies in accordance with regulation;
  • managing processes to optimize the use of the radio spectrum and ensuring harmonious operation of different services;
  • allocating frequency bands in accordance with regulation, law, and international agreements;
  • authorizing the installation of radio stations and granting and issuing licenses;
  • issuing licenses for the use of radiocommunication equipment;
  • updating and maintaining accurate and appropriate records of authorized radiocommunications systems;
  • collecting and processing information concerning the use and assignment of radio frequency ranges;
  • planning and following-up monitoring and inspection technologies as well as rendering full cooperation with foreign countries in technical and operational functions related to monitoring and inspection;
  • monitoring radio frequencies utilization and its directions;
  • evaluating the consistency of radio frequency usage with radiocommunication laws and international regulations;
  • preventing and taking action against illegal possession and use of radiocommunication equipment;  
  • planning, coordinating, following-up, and evaluating the monitoring and inspection results;
  • notifying the ITU of appropriate information;
  • representing the Administration before the ITU, and coordinating activities with the ITU;
  • measuring and monitoring technical parameters of emissions as appropriate;
  • conducting systematic inspections to ensure that radiocommunications equipment meets technical standards.

General Skills

Extensive telecommunications and professional experience with leadership and management qualities. Understanding of policy making and implications of all regulatory action are essential insights to have. The function demands excellent communications skills, both orally and in writing.

Specific Skills

Experience in regulatory and in the technical standards environment along with well developed expertise on public policy issues; in-depth knowledge of the telecom industry and competitive issues. Spectrum management expertise and an understanding spectrum management reform and technology innovation are central to moving ahead with progressive measures. Personnel require a demonstrated ability to communicate effectively with audiences in different fields.

Capacity Building

The contemporary view of capacity building goes beyond the conventional perception of training. The central concerns of spectrum management – to promote spectrum access and efficient use, to resolve conflicting demands, to manage change, to enhance coordination and avoid interference, to foster communication and consultation and to ensure that data and information are shared - require a broader view of capacity development.

Spectrum regulators should consider how to develop capacity through human resource development - staffing and staff retention, improving spectrum management functions through process development, and training.

Spectrum management is a knowledge-based function requiring skilled and committed personnel able to keep pace with continuous progress in radio technology. These qualities will have to contend with increasing complexity and demands coming from improved data handling capabilities and engineering analysis methods used to accommodate the number and variety of users seeking access to the spectrum resource. Staff, trainees and new recruits will need appropriate tools and support to foster learning and development throughout their careers.

One example of issues and criteria used in developing an appropriate training focus within the spectrum management organization appears in chart.


Industry Canada: Spectrum Management Courses – Spectrum Management eLearning

Industry Canada and more specifically its Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulatory Branch face many of the same challenges that other regulatory organizations face:

  • Training is an ongoing process that must be provided to Spectrum Management Officers (SMO);
  • The level of knowledge of each SMO varies in both experience and subject matter expertise;
  • Maintaining a consistent pace in an instructor-led forum can be challenging;
  • Retention of the knowledge conveyed in the classroom is limited if not put into practice once the SMO returns to the job;
  • The nature of a SMO’s job involves collaboration, shared experiences, teamwork, and spectrum management expertise. This information has to be imparted to by an experienced SMO.
  • The training process has to be consistent across all regions; while the experienced SMO providing the training may vary from region to region.

Industry Canada currently offers an Introduction to Spectrum Management and an Authorizations Module to a new SMO recruit. Modules are broken down into three classroom sessions, once or twice in a year, each lasting three weeks.

eLearning will not replace in-class training but will improve the overall outcome by providing SMO’s with access to self-paced training programs, in advance of the formal classroom sessions.

Industry Canada sees much benefit to e-learning such as: reducing costs for travel and accommodation and improving the productivity of the instructor/mentors. Online courses resolve the issue of varying student knowledge as the approach allows the student to pace the course based on their knowledge and background. As well, it has been demonstrated that the self-paced aspect of e-learning increases the retention rate by approximately 40%. Online course can also be taken synchronously, supported by an experienced SMO who can communicate with the students using online collaboration tools.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (US): Spectrum Management Career Development Program

The seminar offered annually introduces the participants to the United States and international spectrum management regime including legal and regulatory organizations and processes. It covers basic spectrum management terminology and a basic technical overview of spectrum principles and characteristics; antenna and radio wave propagation principles; spectrum management of space services; microcomputer spectrum analysis model demonstration; NTIA frequency assignment processes and procedures; Spectrum XXI software overview; spectrum management presentations from selected Federal agencies: presentation on the latest spectrum management issues; and solving spectrum management problems. Training is conducted mainly by the NTIA staff via lectures and classroom exercises.

The spectrum management seminar is an intermediate-level course designed to familiarize personnel in radio frequency spectrum management, presenting subject matter helpful to personnel new to spectrum management as well as experienced spectrum managers desiring to update their knowledge (see:


ITU (2005), Geneva. Handbook on National Spectrum Management

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