Radio Spectrum

The radio frequency spectrum is a finite and increasingly precious world resource, and needs to be managed effectively. In particular, dependence on radio communications in one form or another has grown dramatically in recent years, and the growth in the number and variety of applications - many of them bandwidth hungry - and the huge expansion in user expectations place ever-increasing demands on the radio spectrum.

Fixed and mobile communications, sound and television broadcasting, aviation, railway and maritime transport, defence, medical electronics, emergency services, remote control and monitoring, radio astronomy and space research, as well as many other applications, all make extensive use of the radio spectrum.

Due to the potential for interference between all of these different uses, many parts of the radio spectrum are regulated, usually by national governments. In addition, regulation is usually applied at regional and international levels. There are several reasons for doing this.

The first reason is that radio signals do not stop at national boundaries, whilst the adoption of common frequencies for the same service in different countries can help ensure a greater convenience for users, manufacturers and suppliers. Regulation typically involves giving a right to use certain frequencies for certain applications over a specific geographical area.

Standardization can help towards an efficient use of this limited resource by establishing a basis for harmonized use and setting appropriate technical parameters to control power, interference and the like.

Global co-ordination

At the global level, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) seeks to co-ordinate spectrum use. The ITU's World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRC) take place approximately every four years to review and, when necessary, revise the Radio Regulations which form the international treaty governing the use of the radio frequency spectrum. These regulations also govern the geostationary and non-geostationary satellite orbits.

The ITU also holds Regional Radiocommunication Conferences (RRC). These are conferences of either an ITU Region or a group of countries with a mandate to develop an agreement concerning a particular radiocommunication service or frequency band. RRCs cannot modify the Radio Regulations, and the decisions of an RRC are only binding on those countries that are party to the agreement.


An introduction to the European regulatory environment for radio equipment and spectrum and some key information for newcomers is available in the Radio eBrochure.

The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunication Administrations (CEPT) performs a somewhat similar role of co-ordinating spectrum use, although the ultimate allocation rests with individual national governments.

The European Union (EU) regulatory framework is defined in the Radio Spectrum Policy Decision (Decision No 676/2002/EC). This Decision seeks to:

  • relate spectrum demands to EU policy initiatives
  • introduce legal certainty for technical harmonization measures carried out by CEPT in areas of EU Community policy (The European Commission, in consultation with a Radio Spectrum Committee, places mandates on CEPT. The resulting spectrum allocations are codified in Commission Decisions, applicable throughout the European Community.)
  • increase transparency and information on the use of spectrum by requiring Member States to publish spectrum tables and other relevant information in a common format accessible to all interested parties
  • support the CEPT on the promotion of European interests in international negotiations.

R&TTE Directive

Within the European Union, Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (R&TTE) is subject to the R&TTE Directive (1999/5/EC). This Directive relies for its operation on Harmonised Standards developed by ETSI at the request of the European Commission. Please refer to Radio Equipment Directive (RED).

These Harmonised Standards define technical characteristics which can be used to meet the essential requirements of the Directive, which include effective use of the radio spectrum and orbital resource so as to avoid harmful interference.

Equipment manufactured in accordance with a Harmonised Standard may be placed on the market and put into service within the European Union (certain restrictions apply in the case of radio equipment which uses frequencies whose use is not harmonized in the European Union). Network operators may not refuse to connect compliant equipment on technical grounds. The Commission may invoke certain other requirements for particular classes of equipment.

Spectrum management remains a national matter. Under the terms of the Directive, authorities in the Member States are allowed to regulate radio interfaces, but are required to publish their regulations.

ETSI has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunication Administrations (CEPT), and is represented in key committees within the European Commission (including the Telecommunication Conformity Assessment and Market Surveillance Committee (TCAM), the Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC) and the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG)) to ensure that the necessary spectrum is available for ETSI radio standards.

System Reference Documents

A 'System Reference document' (SRdoc) is usually produced in support of any new system, service or application, in particular when a change of the present frequency designation / utilization within the EU or the CEPT or a change in the present regulatory framework for the proposed band(s) regarding either wanted or unwanted emissions is needed. It has the form of an ETSI Technical Report.

SRdocs can also be prepared in order to help users to understand the concepts relating to a particular standard, even in cases where an SRdoc would not be required for frequency coordination purposes.

The System Reference document is drafted by an ETSI member or by an ETSI Technical Committee using the guidance for drafting an SRdoc in EG 201 788. Once approved by the ETSI committee responsible for such matters (currently Technical Committee ERM), the document is published as the co-ordinated views of ETSI (not only of the originators). This means that the committee has the responsibility of ensuring that all interests within ETSI are consulted and that a co-ordinated view is indeed achieved.

When the System Reference Document is used for frequency coordination purposes, it contains:

  • a basic description of the radio application, and a simple technical description. Any ETSI standards which apply, or are being drafted, are indicated;
  • an indication of the spectrum required by the radio application (for example, how much bandwidth and power are necessary, if specific frequency bands are preferred, if particular licensing conditions are needed). Almost all radio frequencies are in use by some application, and the System Reference document should indicate how compatibility with existing services can be ensured;
  • market forecasts: National Administrations have the responsibility to ensure that the radio spectrum is used efficiently, with a maximum economic and social benefit. The System Reference document should give sufficient material of this nature to the CEPT Administrations to justify an allocation of spectrum.

After the completion of the frequency negotiations, the System Reference document may be updated to become a companion document for the Harmonised Standard.

Harmonised Standards

EG 201 399 provides guidance to assist ETSI Technical Bodies in the drafting of Harmonised Standards under the RED (previously R&TTE Directive).

TR 102 914 addresses aspects and implications of the inclusion of receiver parameters within ETSI standards. It contains an overview of the receiver parameters included in each ETSI Harmonised Standard under article 3.2 of the R&TTE Directive as of fall 2008. Please refer to new RED.

TR 102 070-1 provides guidance in assessing the technical difficulties with the application of Harmonised EMC Standards to combined products, which include a radio and/or a telecommunication function. Examples to be covered include products containing multiple radio technologies, radio in IT equipment, radio in domestic equipment, etc. It is intended to cover these combined products, which are subject to the provisions of the R&TTE Directive as a result of this combination.

The purpose of TR 102 070-1 is:

  • to provide guidance with the testing of this type of equipment
  • to eliminate duplicate testing wherever possible
  • to recommend the selection of appropriate performance assessment and performance criteria for this type of equipment
  • to provide guidance for conformance evaluation and market surveillance

TR 102 070-2 provides guidance on the application of harmonized radio product standards for combined products under article 3.2 (effective use of spectrum) of the R&TTE Directive.

Traditionally, spectrum regulations have allocated frequency bands to specific services and sometimes to specific technologies. Spectrum managers have begun to allow a degree of flexibility in the use of spectrum, either providing generic allocations (for example, to short-range devices), or by granting rights (exclusive or shared) restricting only interference to other band users or users of adjacent bands. TR 102 748 describes the impact of the trend towards flexibility in spectrum usage on the design of Harmonised Standards.

Overview of ETSI standards using the radio frequency spectrum

TR 102 137 has been developed to provide an overview of ETSI deliverables and their applications and frequency bands. It lists per ETSI deliverable the application, frequency bands, and article of Directive 1999/5/EC covered.

This information can, for example, help:

  • guide manufacturers to the appropriate Harmonised Standard under the R&TTE Directive
  • provide parameters for compatibility/sharing studies
  • increase understanding and awareness of the ETSI deliverables.

TR 102 137 is intended to be used to further update the European Common Allocation table in CEPT/ERC Report 25 which is also accessible in the EFIS online database.

Recent activities

Recently published System Reference documents include:

  • TR 102 626  on Citizens' Band Radio
  • TR 102 496  on Ultra-WideBand (UWB) Location tracking Applications for Emergency Services
  • TR 102 834 on airborne Ultra-WideBand (UWB) applications.

An docoverview of System Reference documents under development is provided on the Portal.

During 2009, ETSI provided input to enable European Commission Decisions. These Decisions require EU Member States to make spectrum available under defined harmonized conditions. Coupled with the corresponding Harmonised Standards (developed by ETSI), manufacturers may sell equipment that can be used under harmonized conditions throughout the EU market.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a good example where ETSI input into the frequency management process has enabled new markets to develop.

The following is a list of key reference documents.

Standard No.Standard Title
EG 201 788 Guidance for drafting an ETSI System Reference Document
EG 201 399 A guide to the production of candidate Harmonized Standards for application under the R&TTE Directive
TR 102 070-1 Guide to the application of harmonized standards to multi-radio and combined radio and non-radio equipment;
Part 1: ElectroMagnetic Compatibility
TR 102 070-2 Guide to the application of harmonized standards to multi-radio and combined radio and non-radio equipment;
Part 2: Effective use of the radio frequency spectrum
TR 102 137 Use of radio frequency spectrum by equipment meeting ETSI standards
TR 102 914 Aspects and implications of the inclusion of receiver parameters within ETSI standards
TR 102 748 Impact of the trend towards flexibility in spectrum usage on the principles for drafting Harmonized Standards and the ETSI work programme for Harmonized Standards

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