The Effectiveness of Opportunistic Spectrum Access: A Measurement Study

Vinod Kone
Lei Yang
Xue Yang
Ben Y. Zhao
Haitao Zheng

ACM/IEEE Transactions on Networking (TON 2012)

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Paper Abstract

Dynamic spectrum access networks are designed to allow today's bandwidth-hungry "secondary devices" to share spectrum allocated to legacy devices, or "primary users." The success of this wireless communication model relies on the availability of unused spectrum and the ability of secondary devices to utilize spectrum without disrupting transmissions of primary users. While recent measurement studies have shown that there is sufficient underutilized spectrum available, little is known about whether secondary devices can efficiently make use of available spectrum while minimizing disruptions to primary users.

In this paper, we present the first comprehensive study on the presence of "usable" spectrum in opportunistic spectrum access systems, and whether sufficient spectrum can be extracted by secondary devices to support traditional networking applications. We use for our study fine-grain usage traces of a wide spectrum range (20 MHz-6GHz) taken at four locations in Germany, the Netherlands, and Santa Barbara, CA. Our study shows that on average, 54% of spectrum is never used and 26% is only partially used. Surprisingly, in this 26% of partially used spectrum, secondary devices can utilize very little spectrum using conservative access policies to minimize interference with primary users. Even assuming an optimal access scheme and extensive statistical knowledge of primary-user access patterns, a user can only extract between 20%-30% of the total available spectrum. To provide better spectrum availability, we propose frequency bundling, where secondary devices build reliable channels by combining multiple unreliable frequencies into virtual frequency bundles. Analyzing our traces, we find that there is little correlation of spectrum availability across channels, and that bundling random channels together can provide sustained periods of reliable transmission with only short interruptions.