Thursday, February 16, 2012

Europe agrees on mobile broadband spectrum harmony

Europe has adopted a common spectrum policy to ensure that the same frequencies can be used for mobile broadband services across the EU.

The agreement should make sure that mobile broadband equipment will be easier to use across European borders. The Radio Spectrum Policy Programme was proposed by the European Commission in 2010 and backed by MEPs in May last year, and on Wednesday the European Parliament and the Commission announced that it had been formally adopted.

"Adoption of the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme will help reduce the digital divide, make Europe a connected and competitive continent and introduce more wireless broadband choices," digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

The spectrum programme is a key tranche of the Kroes's Digital Agenda, which aims to ensure that everyone in Europe has access to broadband by 2013.

"The first EU policy on radio spectrum will enable the EU to regain world leadership in wireless communication," MEP Gunnar Hökmark, who was in charge of the policy during its parliamentary scrutiny, said in a separate statement. "It will optimise the use of frequencies to the benefit of all users of smart phones and other mobile digital platforms."

As part of the agreed programme, all EU member states have to by the start of 2013 authorise the use of several bands for 3G and 4G mobile broadband. These include the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands that will later this year be auctioned off in the UK so mobile operators can roll out 4G LTE services, and the 900MHz and 1800MHz 2G bands that can now be 'refarmed' for 3G or 4G services.

The lower-placed bands, particularly 800MHz, should allow services to be rolled out more cheaply in rural areas, as this spectrum covers great distances.

The 3.4GHz and 3.5GHz bands will also have to be made available for mobile broadband by the end of 2012. In the UK, these bands are owned by PCCW. They were originally pegged for WiMax use, but PCCW said last year that it hopes to use them for an LTE network.

Further bands may also have to be opened up for mobile broadband use. By mid-2013 at the latest, the Commission and member states will have to "set out the details for an inventory to analyse efficient spectrum use, in the 400 MHz to 6 GHz range, in the EU," the Commission said.

By 2015, the Commission added, all member states will have had to allow operators to trade spectrum in "a set of harmonised bands where flexible use has already been introduced", and make sure that "sufficient harmonised spectrum becomes available for safety services and civil protection"