Commission proposes to boost mobile Internet services with high-quality radio frequencies
Date: Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:14 Source: European Commission
The Commission presented a proposal to coordinate the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. It will improve internet access for all Europeans and help develop cross-border applications
Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society
Image credited to the EC
Radio frequencies know no borders: spectrum needs to be better coordinated at EU level to avoid interferences and to allow innovative services, such as connected cars or remote health care, to work across the continent. The EU also has to cope with the growing demand for wireless broadband. By 2020 there will be nearly eight times as much mobile internet traffic as today. The Commission today takes action to meet these challenges. As part of its strategy to create a Digital Single Market, it proposes a balanced long-term approach for the use of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) band (470-790 MHz). Currently, this band is mainly used for TV broadcasting. According to the proposal, more spectrum will be made available for mobile services in the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) by 2020. This band is ideal for providing high-quality internet to users, wherever they are, be it a large city, a small distant village or on a highway. Frequencies in the sub-700 MHz area (470-694 MHz) will remain available, as a priority, for audiovisual services. This approach will make sure that Europeans can have access to creative content on tablets and smartphones – an increasing trend – but also through classic TV services. The proposal is also in line with the most recent international agreements on the use of the UHF band including the 700 MHz band.
Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: "28 different approaches to manage radio frequencies in the EU do not make economic sense in the Digital Single Market. Today we come with our first proposal on how to better coordinate spectrum in the EU. We propose a joint approach to use the 700 MHz band for mobile services. This band is the sweet spot for both wide coverage and high speeds. It will give top-quality internet access to all Europeans, even in rural areas, and pave the way for 5G, the next generation of communication network. At the same time, we secure frequencies for the audiovisual sector and boost the development of technologies which make an efficient use of radio waves. Spectrum is a scarce resource: we need to make the best of it."
Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, said: "We cannot have high quality mobile internet for everything and for everyone everywhere unless we have modern infrastructure and modern rules. With this proposal we show that we can have both: a vibrant audiovisual sector as well as the spectrum we will need for 5G. The 700 MHz band will be ideal for new promising fields like connected driving and the Internet of Things. I want Europe to lead in 5G. That is why all Member States must act by 2020."
The proposal comprises two major elements:
• in the 700 MHz band: a common schedule for making it effectively available for wireless broadband use under harmonised technical conditions, and related coordination measures in support of this transition;
• in the sub-700 MHz band: long-term priority for the distribution of audiovisual media services to the general public, along with a flexible approach for spectrum use to cater for different levels of digital terrestrial television (DTT) uptake in Member States.
The proposal will make it easier and will reduce costs to develop innovative devices and services across the EU: no need to switch between different bands anymore and to adapt to divergent national requirements.
Coordinated transition towards 2020
The Commission proposes that the 700 MHz band should be assigned to wireless broadband by 30 June 2020 at the latest in all EU countries. This will be in line with the deployment of 5G, foreseen as from 2020. To meet this deadline, Member States will need to adopt and make public their national plans for network coverage and for releasing this band by 30 June 2017. They will need also to conclude cross-border coordination agreements by the end of 2017. Such plans will smooth the transition and ensure good network coverage that will help to bridge the digital divide and create the necessary coverage conditions for connected vehicles or remote health care.
Two Member States (France, Germany) have already authorised the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. Further Member States (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, UK) have outlined plans to repurpose the 700 MHz band in the next few years.
The Commission counts on the swift adoption of today’s proposal by the European Parliament and Member States in order to ensure a predictable and timely transition.
The ultra-high frequency (UHF) band comprises the range 470-790 MHz and is currently used for digital terrestrial television and for wireless microphones in programme making and at special events. Europe is witnessing significant growth in the demand for wireless broadband services mainly driven by video consumption on the move. Increasing mobile data traffic puts pressure on existing networks' capacity and on demand for additional spectrum. Today's proposal provides more spectrum for broadband in the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz). At the same time, it aims at preserving the European audiovisual model, which offers free-to-view public interest broadcasting and requires sustainable spectrum resources in the sub-700 MHz band (470-694 MHz).
In 2014, the Commission tasked former Commissioner Pascal Lamy to chair a High Level Group consisting of mobile, broadcasting and media sector representatives to find a common position on the UHF band's future use. The Chairman's report recommended repurposing the 700 MHz band for wireless broadband while sustaining the European audiovisual model through safeguards to terrestrial broadcasting for spectrum access to the sub-700 MHz frequency band.
The respondents to the subsequent public consultation expressed support for coordinated EU action. Member States' representatives within theRadio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) adopted an Opinion, which also supports the provision of wireless broadband in the 700 MHz frequency band via a coordinated EU approach; it recommends the adoption of harmonised technical conditions and a common deadline for effective use of the band as well as ensuring the long-term use of the sub-700 MHz frequency band for audiovisual distribution, including its availability for digital terrestrial television (DTT) .
Following the outcomes of the EU-level stakeholder process and international (ITU) agreements, the Commission’s approach on the long-term use of the UHF band is designed to foster the Digital Single Market and to ensure efficient management of this valuable radio spectrum, reflecting its social, cultural and economic value.
Making progress towards a Digital Single Market
Today's new rules on the 700 MHz band follow the first proposals made under the Digital Single Market strategy in December 2015 on copyright and digital contracts. The Digital Single Market strategy includes 16 key initiatives to be presented by the end of this year.
Next steps related to spectrum coordination are expected to be part of the overhaul of EU telecoms rules which will be presented this year.