The requirement for spectrum planning stems from the need to manage interference between users. Generally speaking, radio receivers are not able to distinguish between similar strength, multiple transmissions on the same frequency.
A consequence of the potential for interference is that spectrum is described in economic terms as being a finite, instantly renewable, natural resource. Because the spectrum has the attributes of a limited resource, it has significant economic value and must be managed to maximise its overall benefit. At the heart of spectrum planning then are:
- the technical issues of managing interference and maximising spectrum efficiency and
- the policy issues regarding equity of access.
The other reason for managing the spectrum relates to harmonisation between countries. Generally speaking, Australia's various industry sectors, and ultimately consumers, benefit from internationally agreed spectrum arrangements and standards costs are lower through larger economies of scale and the market place is more competitive. For example, the international transport sector relies on global harmonisation of spectrum arrangements (and technical standards) to support the safe control and free movement of aircraft and shipping between countries.
Spectrum is an increasingly important input resource to the economy, as more and more is used to provide communications services directly to industry and consumers, and as a major component of communications networks themselves. Current uses of the spectrum continue to grow while at the same time new services are continually being developed. Both the generic growth and the changing uses of spectrum need to be supported within what is a finite resource, which is largely already assigned to existing users. The challenge for spectrum managers is to facilitate change in the use of spectrum in an environment where the rate of technology change is increasing. Meeting this challenge requires careful planning and the need to make sometimes difficult choices about spectrum use.