EC Calls For Spectrum Sharing To Ease Mobile Data Strain

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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EC wants legislation to allow spectrum sharing and make it easier to use white spaces for wireless broadband

The European Commission (EC) today called for member states to introduce legislation that makes it easier to share spectrum and make use of white space in order to deal with anticipated growth in mobile data traffic.

‘White spaces’ consist of unused spectrum. They can emerge when signals are switched off because of a service running in certain time frames, or in geographic spaces where networks are not re-using spectrum.

Although it has acknowledged that some member states have already employed strategies to exploit white space, the EC wants a “coordinated European approach” for spectrum sharing and for legislation to reflect new technologies.

The EC has warned that without the measures outlined in its new Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, mobile and broadband users could suffer from poor service and that Europe risks being left with a fragmented market which lags behind the use of wireless innovations.

‘Economic oxygen’

The Commission anticipates that global mobile data traffic will increase 26 percent annually by 2015, yet there is no vacant spectrum left and the cost of re-allocating spectrum to new uses is high.

“Radio spectrum is economic oxygen, it is used by every single person and business. If we run out of spectrum then mobile networks and broadband won’t work,” said Neelie Kroes, vice president of the EC responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe. “That is unacceptable, we must maximise this scarce resource by re-using it and creating a single market out of it. We need a single market for spectrum in order to regain global industrial leadership in mobile and data, to attract more R&D investments.”

Spectrum sharing

Spectrum sharing would ease this predicted strain by providing additional resources without compromising license holders’ rights to use their frequencies.

The EC says that there should be incentives for license holders to offer their spectrum although it claims there are a number of existing economic arguments for them to do so. For example, operators could offer access in exchange for co-funding infrastructure or recoup investment costs by sharing their spectrum where and when they are not using it.

The Commission even argues that it could make some areas where demand for services is uncertain more attractive to investors and even encourage operators to seek shared spectrum licenses.

White spaces

Operators could also provide wireless broadband services in the spaces between television frequencies known as ‘white spaces’. White space technology has been seen in the UK as a solution to rural broadband not-spots and a recent trial in Cambridge was hailed as a success.

The EU’s Radio Spectrum Policy Programme has previously told member states to clear the 800MHz spectrum for wireless broadband by 2013 at the latest as part of the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial television and lay the foundations for a Pan-European market.

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