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The issuing of offshore spectrum licences

In recent times Norwegian Communications Authority (Nkom) has registered an increased interest in and demand for flexible spectrum licences with a geographical scope in the maritime zones outside mainland Norway. In connection with this, in autumn 2011 Nkom conducted a hearing regarding the use and allocation of offshore spectrum licences.

At the hearing, Nkom presented a number of challenges and proposed procedures relating to the issuing of offshore spectrum licences. Nkom received a great deal of constructive consultative input and has arrived at conclusions for the procedures based on the input provided. What has now been prepared is a final process for issuing and managing offshore frequency resources.

New issuing of licences

Nkom is of the view that the issuing of offshore spectrum licences involves new issuing of licences that must occur based on open, objective, transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate conditions in the same way as for other issuing of frequency licences. This entails that so-called land-based1 spectrum licences on frequency bands that could also be issued offshore will not be expanded to include offshore areas.

Existing offshore licences

At present, a number of transmitter licences have already been granted to be used for radio links and PMR (Permitted Radiated Power) with an offshore scope. Offshore spectrum licences have also been issued, however there are only a few such licences. When issuing new offshore licences consideration must be made to these existing licences.

Offshore areas - statutory basis for issuing licences

The areas that have, as a starting point, been considered for issuing licences are territorial waters, the contiguous zone and Norway's exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf.

In internal waters and the sea territory that constitute Norway's territorial waters, the Norwegian authorities have full jurisdiction. This entails that, in principle, the Norwegian electronic communications authority can grant licences to use frequency resources within this entire area.

However, certain restrictions apply for the sea territory. Here the vessels of foreign states have the right to use frequencies in connection with so-called "innocent passage"2. In addition, a general frequency licence is granted in Section 43 of the Free Use Regulations3 to use GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) on board vessels in the territorial sea starting at a distance of nautical miles (nm) outside the baseline.

Section 1-3 of the Electronic Communications Act stipulates the geographical scope of the Act and therefore sets restrictions on the areas for which licences can be issued. In accordance with the rules concerning jurisdiction, the Electronic Communications Act grants the authority to issue frequencies on Norwegian territory, including Norwegian territorial waters. The territorial waters stretch to 12 nautical miles, measured from the baseline. Beyond the outermost border of Norway's territorial waters the electronic communications authority can only issue frequency licences to "Norwegian ships" and "installations and devices of whatever nature connected to petroleum activity on the continental shelf or for utilisation of renewable energy resources at sea within the scope of the Norwegian Offshore Energy Act", as presently worded in Section 1-3 of the Electronic Communications Act.

Relationship to land-based spectrum licences

When issuing offshore licences consideration must be made to the coverage area of land-based spectrum licences that have already been issued.

For the majority of spectrum licences which have "Norwegian land territory" and similar as their geographical scope , no demarcation has been made for coverage towards the sea areas outside the mainland. Nkom has found that land-based licences with this scope have mainland Norway and the internal waters out to the baseline as their coverage area. 

However, some of the holders of these land-based spectrum licences have actual coverage that extends well outside of the baseline. This actual use has occurred for a long time and has been desirable on the part of the authorities to be able to provide mobile coverage to those travelling at sea.

As a starting point, Nkom will set a coordinating border for offshore spectrum licences of 12 nautical miles from the baseline with the same field strength level that applies for coordinating against neighbouring countries4. In Nkom's view this will protect the actual coverage beyond the sea boundary which many of the holders of land-based spectrum licences have.

However, on some frequency bands a coordinating border of 12 nautical miles will not be sufficient to protect the coverage the holders of land-based licences have in the sea areas and which has been desired by the authorities. This applies first and foremost to services for mobile telephony and mobile broadband which, due to the technology that is used, extend a long distance and provide coverage far out to sea. 

For the 450 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz frequency bands, as a starting point a coordinating border of 70 km from the baseline has been set in the offshore spectrum licence. The limit of 70 km has been chosen based on the theoretical range for GSM of 35 km in addition to the "extended cell" possibility which doubles the theoretical range to 70 km.

Some of the oil fields where it could be relevant to use frequencies on installations and facilities are located, based on Nkom's calculations, closer than 70km from the baseline. The proposed border of 70km could be deviated from in such cases where the holder of an offshore spectrum licence agrees to a different border with the holder of a land-based spectrum licence.

The proposed coordinating borders of 12 nautical miles and 70 km must, as a starting point, be stipulated in the licence text when issuing new offshore spectrum licences.

Frequency bands that are not issued for commercial purposes offshore

Some frequency bands will not be issued for commercial purposes offshore. This will in the first place apply to the following frequency bands:

  • The frequency bands which the Directorate for Emergency Communication has spectrum licences for on land.
  • The frequency bands which the Armed Forces are licence holders of on land
  • The 174-240 MHz frequency band
  • The 470-790 MHz frequency band

Other special circumstances relating to spectrum licences offshore

Nkom will primarily follow the same issuing procedure for offshore spectrum licences as for the issuing of land-based spectrum licences.

Areas that are assigned

The potential areas for offshore licences will be assigned as a combined area and there will therefore not be regional issuing of licences. 

Negotiability

Those who receive offshore spectrum licences, however only require the use of frequency resources within a limited geographical area, will also be able to sell or lease out frequency resources in areas where they do not use these themselves. 

Duration

Offshore spectrum licences are given the same duration as land-based spectrum licences. 

Channel plan

As a starting point, Nkom will also use the same channel plans offshore as those used for the Norwegian mainland.

International coordination

Coordinating against neighbouring countries for offshore spectrum licences must follow the normal principles and procedures when coordinating land-based spectrum licences. Nkom is responsible for coordinating with regard to international frequency coordination.

Administrative charges

When new offshore spectrum licences are issued offshore Nkom will order the licence holders to pay annual administrative charges for these frequency licences in accordance with the Administrative Charges Regulations5. The fees under the Administrative Charges Regulations must reflect the resources Nkom uses for each licence. 

Nkom's use of resources for issuing offshore spectrum licences will not differ greatly from the resources used when issuing an equivalent land-based spectrum licence. Based on this, the administrative charges for offshore spectrum licences will be in accordance with the provisions in Section 9 and 12 of the Administrative Charges Regulations.

Section 9 of the Administrative Charges Regulations that applies to PMR spectrum licences and Section12 of the Administrative Charges Regulations which applies for other spectrum licences, have separate rules for regional spectrum licences, however other than this they are not associated with a specific geographic scope. The wording of the provisions also applies to offshore spectrum licences. By using these provisions, a spectrum licence that has "Norwegian land territory" as its scope and a spectrum licence with an offshore scope will be subject to equal administrative charges.

Frequency fee

Offshore spectrum licences will not be subject to fees and charges. The earnings potential and demand related to an offshore spectrum licence is considered limited compared with a spectrum licence which covers all of mainland Norway. To avoid weakened demand and depreciation in the value of the frequency resources there will be no administrative charges.

1By land-based spectrum licences is meant licences which specify that the geographical scope is "Norwegian land territory" or the like. 
2See Section 2 of the Territorial Waters Act, (Act no. 57 of 27 June 2003 relating to Norway's territorial waters and contiguous zone) and Article 17 et seq. of the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.
3Regulations no. 77 of 19 January 2012 relating to general authorisations for the use of radio frequencies (the Free Use Regulations).
4International coordination values for field strength used as described in the appurtenant CEPT recommendations for international coordination, for example ECC/REC/(08)02 and ECC/REC/(11)04
5Regulations no. 168 of 21 February 2005 relating to administrative charges payable to the Norwegian Post and Telecommunications Authority (Administrative Charges Regulations).