© 2013 IEEE.Traditional cognitive radio (CR) spectrum access techniques have been primitive and inefficient due to being blind to the occupancy conditions of the spectrum bands to be sensed. In addition, current spectrum access techniques are also unable to detect network changes or even consider the requirements of unlicensed users, leading to a poorer quality of service (QoS) and excessive latency. As user-specific approaches will play a key role in future wireless communication networks, the conventional CR spectrum access should also be updated in order to be more effective and agile. In this paper, a comprehensive and novel solution is proposed to decrease the sensing latency and to make the CR networks (CRNs) aware of unlicensed user requirements. As such, a proactive process with a novel QoS-based optimization phase is proposed, consisting of two different decision strategies. Initially, future traffic loads of the different radio access technologies (RATs), occupying different bands of the spectrum, are predicted using the artificial neural networks (ANNs). Based on these predictions, two strategies are proposed. In the first one, which solely focuses on latency, a virtual wideband (WB) sensing approach is developed, where predicted relative traffic loads in WB are exploited to enable narrowband (NB) sensing. The second one, based on Q -learning, focuses not only on minimizing the sensing latency but also on satisfying other user requirements. The results reveal that the first strategy manages to significantly reduce the sensing latency of the random selection process by 59.6%, while the Q -learning assisted second strategy enhanced the full-satisfaction by up to 95.7%.