On the Application of Blockchains to Spectrum Management

Privacy and Security, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Networks and Infrastructure and Wireless

Article Snapshot


Kevin Werbach


IEEE Transactions on Cognitive Communications and Networking, Vol. 5, Issue 2, pp. 193-205, June, 2019


Blockchain technologies could help operators and users of the electromagnetic spectrum coordinate their activities. Challenges include device power limitations and blockchain system capacity constraints.

Policy Relevance

Blockchain could displace command and control regulatory regimes for spectrum.

Main Points

  • Blockchains use a “distributed ledger,” that is, a secure decentralized database which no single entity controls; each entity maintains control over its own data.
  • “Public” blockchain systems allow anyone to join the network; “permissioned” blockchain systems allow only some users to join.
  • Blockchain systems could be used to manage the use of electromagnetic spectrum by information technologies, but such applications face challenges.
    • Mobile devices lack the processing and battery power to participate fully.
    • Developers would need to adapt blockchain security and error protocols for wireless communications, which can be unreliable.
  • With “primary cooperative sharing,” spectrum users agree in advance to coordinate their use of spectrum, and all users have equal rights to access spectrum.
    • Blockchain could support a near real-time spectrum market, recording spectrum requests and offers.
    • A permissioned system would be most workable.
  • With “secondary cooperative sharing,” all users agree in advance to coordinate their spectrum use, but some spectrum users take priority over others.
    • Secondary users must query the database to avoid interference with primary users.
    • Blockchain technologies could support secondary cooperative sharing.
  • With “secondary noncooperative sharing,” secondary users do not agree in advance to coordinate with primary users; rather, device users are opportunistic in seeking available spectrum.
    • Blockchain could support detection of spectrum holes, where transmission is possible
    • Mandatory participation of devices would ensure the activity log is accurate.
  • With “primary noncooperative sharing,” users with equal rights to spectrum do not coordinate spectrum use in advance.
    • In an “open access commons,” any technically qualified spectrum user may operate.
    • In a “private commons,” spectrum is open only to some users.
    • Blockchain is likely unworkable for managing an open access commons.
  • Blockchain spectrum management would affect policymakers and spectrum regulators.
    • More spectrum sharing could reduce spectrum auction revenues.
    • Blockchain could displace command and control regulatory models.
    • Incumbent spectrum users might object to sharing their spectrum.

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