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Electromagnetic Spectrum Regulation
October 29, 2012

Society's increasing use of radio-based technologies, and the opportunities for development that these technologies provide, highlight the importance of the radio spectrum. The spectrum is used for all forms of wireless communication including: cellular telephone, radio and television broadcasting, GPS position locating, aeronautical and maritime radio navigation, and satellite command and control. Technological progress has continually opened doors to a variety of new radio applications that have spurred interest in, and demand for spectrum. The amount of available spectrum is a fixed resource. Increased demand requires that the radio spectrum be used efficiently and this means that effective spectrum management processes must be implemented. Spectrum management is the oversight of radio frequency spectrum use. The goal is to prevent users from harmful interference while allowing optimum use of the spectrum. There are four phases of spectrum management:

Spectrum Allocation


Spectrum allocation is a planning function which involves the designation of portions of the frequency spectrum to specified uses in accordance with international agreements, technical characteristics and potential use of different parts of the spectrum, and national priorities and policies. Spectrum allocation is a distribution of frequencies to radio services. An allocation designates the use of a given frequency band for use by one or more radio communication services. National and international tables of frequency allocations contain lists of these frequency band designations. Currently, the U.S. Table of Frequency Allocations covers the radio spectrum between 9 kHz and 300 GHz.

Spectrum Authorization

Spectrum authorization is a licensing function which involves granting access for use under specified conditions to the spectrum resource by various types of radio communication stations. An assignment is a distribution of a frequency or frequencies to a given radio station in order to permit use of the radio frequency or frequencies under specified conditions. This may involve assigning specific frequencies to users, assigning certain frequency bands or sub-bands to users who may be able to transfer such spectrum rights to others, or it may mean authorizing the use of specific categories of equipment (unlicensed devices).

Spectrum authorization activities include analyzing requirements for proposed frequencies in accordance with national frequency allocations and any applicable technical standards in order to select the most appropriate frequencies for radio communication systems. These activities also include actions to coordinate proposed assignments with existing assignments and to protect radio communication systems from harmful interference. An operator is assigned a frequency or set of frequencies in order to provide communications services, and this assignment of frequencies is done in a way to avoid harmful interference with other users of the spectrum. Spectrum authorization strategies ensure proper radio spectrum use, facilitate reuse, and achieve spectrum efficiency.

Spectrum Engineering

Spectrum engineering is a regulatory function which involves the development of electromagnetic compatibility standards (technical standards) for equipment that emits or is susceptible to radio frequencies and the development of procedural rules for use of radio equipment. There are technical standards which describe procedures for how spectrum is used - spectrum operating standards; and standards which state conditions of apparatus compliance - radio equipment standards. Spectrum operating standards state the minimal technical requirements for the efficient use of a specified frequency band or bands. Equipment standards involve certification of radio equipment such as transmitters, receivers and antennas in order to determine compliance with radio specifications.

Spectrum Compliance

Spectrum compliance is an enforcement function which involves the monitoring of the use of the radio spectrum and the implementation of measures to control unauthorized use. Spectrum monitoring and compliance activities are needed to ensure user compliance with frequency allocations, terms of assignments and technical standards. These activities help users to avoid incompatible frequency usage through the identification of sources of harmful interference, and to resolve interference problems for existing and potential users. Ensuring compliance with national spectrum management regulations maximizes the benefit of the spectrum resource to society.

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United States Spectrum Allocation Chart, 2011
United States Spectrum Allocation Chart, 2011
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Page Last Updated: February 6th, 2014
Page Editor: Thuy Mai