7 ways regulators use spectrum monitoring to police the airwaves

The radio frequency (RF) spectrum may not be visible to the naked eye, but it's a finite resource that’s crucial for modern communications and data transfer. Whether it’s streaming a live sports event, such as the Olympics, or coordinating flights in and out of a busy airport, the RF spectrum keeps it all connected. That's why spectrum managers need to have the right spectrum monitoring tools they need to ensure this resource is used legally, properly, and responsibly.

Thankfully, international and country-specific spectrum regulators work hard to make sure the spectrum remains accessible and interference-free. With the help of the latest spectrum monitoring systems and real-time data, regulators can track usage and enforce regulations so mission- and business-critical functions can operate without interruption. 

Just how are today’s spectrum managers using the latest spectrum monitoring systems to track RF usage across the full range of their responsibilities? Here are seven key ways:

1. Enforce fair usage and licensing agreements

Regulators use spectrum monitoring systems to enforce fair usage and licensing agreements that dictate the allocation of the spectrum by ensuring users are adhering to their allocated frequency bands.

With the increase in active frequency authorizations, regulators need to rely on RF monitoring technology to scan the spectrum and gather data on who is using it, when, and at what level. By analyzing this data, regulators can verify the correct users are accessing their allocated spectrum and are doing so at the appropriate times and locations. 

Whether it’s a one-time event with domestic and international equipment operating at multiple frequencies or continuous monitoring around a city, real-time spectrum data keeps it all organized and properly structured.

2. Detect interference

Regulators can also use spectrum monitoring systems to detect interference by scanning the RF spectrum and identifying any anomalies. Spectrum users, such as the military, law enforcement, and businesses, expect to have access to the spectrum they paid for or have been allocated without interference or competing transmissions.

With spectrum monitoring systems, regulators can continually scan the spectrum and receive alerts if interference is detected or if transmissions fall outside of approved thresholds. The collected data allows regulators to pinpoint and keep records on parameters such as the frequency, power, duration, and geolocation of the interference, enabling them to quickly resolve the issue.

3. Support major events and broadcast rights

Major sporting and entertainment events, such as the Olympic Games, Super Bowl, or World Cup, require a large amount of spectrum for a short period. After spending millions of dollars on preparation and spectrum rights, broadcasters need to be assured that their broadcast won't be interrupted.

Dozens of different types of devices are vying for the RF spectrum in such a small time window and defined space. Regulators can employ a network of intelligent RF sensors to monitor the spectrum in real-time before and during the event to ensure spectrum usage falls within proper bands. By doing so, regulators can identify and resolve any potential issues before they impact the coverage of the event.

4. Preserve national security

Regulators also use spectrum monitoring systems to assist law enforcement agencies identify illegal activity, especially at border regions. Whether from illegal trade or hostile groups, actors often use RF-emitting devices to coordinate and communicate during their activities.  

Spectrum monitoring networks are composed of a series of continuous, automated sensors over long geographic spans that connect back to a centralized management element. Using these networks, regulators can locate GPS jammers and other unauthorized spectrum usages. Once identified, the network of sensors will give military and border patrol the information they need to easily detect, classify, and geolocate emissions from criminal sources.

5. Maintain public safety

Another key role that spectrum monitors play is ensuring essential emergency communications aren’t blocked. Spectrum interference can conflict with or block essential emergency communications, including radio transmissions used by medical and law enforcement personnel and public alert broadcasts.

By employing RF spectrum monitoring around a jurisdiction or sensitive locations, such as hospitals or police stations, regulators can have early warnings for any potential interference. This allows emergency services to operate effectively around the clock.

6. Forecast future spectrum usage and licensing

Regulators use spectrum monitoring systems to forecast future spectrum usage by tracking how various frequencies are used and monitoring spectrum occupancy by time, location, and power.  

With the increase in demand for data and communications networks, RF spectrum users are looking at higher frequencies to address current and future demand. Previously, frequencies over 18 gigahertz (GHz) were underutilized, but now 20, 30, and even 40GHz are being used. Regulators can use advanced RF spectrum monitoring to confirm usage or reallocate underutilized frequencies to efficiently use available bands.

This technology is crucial in future-proofing spectrum monitoring so regulators can monitor high-frequency spectrum use as more users seek less congested access. With the right tools, regulators can ensure the RF spectrum is being used efficiently and future demands can be met.

7. Meet international standards while working efficiently

Finally, regulators are also tasked with precisely monitoring spectrum usage near international borders to maintain compliance with international standards. Staying within agreed-upon international standards is crucial to preventing interference issues and providing a baseline for how various measurements can be made with the wide range of frequency uses.

However, it’s important to note that the ITU’s Handbook On National Spectrum Management isn’t a bible. Regulators should always be open to innovative methodologies that can balance their need for spectrum management with the realities of capital and operational expenditures.  

The right solution will be ITU-compliant and capable of a wide range of collection, placement, and operational configurations. Moreover, it shouldn't require ongoing operating expenditures for calibration or maintenance, allowing regulators to do more for less.


The RF spectrum is a critical—but finite—resource that’s essential for modern communication, safety, and business. This makes it crucial for spectrum managers to have the necessary tools to ensure its legal, proper, and responsible use.

With the help of the latest spectrum monitoring systems and real-time data analysis capabilities, regulators can continuously and nimbly track usage and enforce regulations so mission- and business-critical functions can operate without interruption. By doing so, regulators can enforce fair usage, support major events, and—with the right tools—meet international standards without breaking the budget.

Jon Bradley

With over 6 years of experience, Dr Bradley enjoys close collaboration with a range of CRFS clients to help them understand how to lever CRFS technology and what advantages the RFeye ecosystem can bring in real-world scenarios. Leading our Rest of World commercial team, he brings over 30 years of experience and know-how in both theory and in practice. When not living, sleeping, and dreaming about science, he enjoys hiking with Hugo the RF retriever who often appears in his posts.

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