Europe Formally Adopts Radio Spectrum Programme

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The European Parliament has voted to adopt a cross border spectrum policy to harmonise mobile broadband kit

On Wednesday the European Parliament official voted for the adoption of the five-year Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP).

The adoption of the RSPP should essentially allow for the same spectrum frequencies to be used across member states for mobile broadband services. This makes it much easier for equipment makers to ensure their kit works in different countries. It comes as little surprise that the RSPP has been officially adopted, as it was proposed back in September 2010 and then gained the backing of MEPs in Strasbourg in May 2011.

RSPP Adoption

The policy comes about as many European countries are freeing up valuable spectrum thanks to the move from analogue to digital television. This so-called ‘digital dividend’ will mean more frequencies for new services, such as improving the mobile broadband experience for millions of European users.

“Radio spectrum supports 3.5 million jobs and more than 250 billion euros (£208bn) of economic activity each year in Europe, including incredibly popular services such as wireless broadband,” said the European Commission. “The Commission therefore welcomes the European Parliament’s adoption of the five-year Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) which will allow sufficient spectrum to be made available for wireless applications and services such as high speed 4th generation (4G) wireless broadband.”

“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,” said European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes.

So what exactly does adoption of the RSPP mean for European countries? Well before July 2015, member states have to undertake the following steps:

  • By the end of 2012, member states should have authorised the use of the harmonised 2.5-2.69 GHz, 3.4-3.8 GHz and 900/1800 MHz bands for use by wireless broadband communications, including 3G and 4G mobile communication services.
  • By January 2013, all member states should have authorised the use of the 800 MHz band for wireless broadband communications in rural areas, as this spectrum has greater reach. This could expand mobile broadband coverage in rural areas and thereby help in bridging the digital divide, where many in rural or semi rural areas are being left in the broadband slow lane.
  • Finally by mid-2013 the Commission will set out the details for an inventory to analyse efficient spectrum use, in the 400MHz to 6GHz range, in the EU. This will form the basis of possible further action on the coordinated allocation of spectrum bands to specific uses, such as wireless broadband.

Additional action by 2015 includes spectrum trading; ensuring sufficient harmonised spectrum becomes available for safety services and civil protection; and ensuring there is ready environment to encourage greater investment, competition and innovation.

Spectrum Auction

Several European countries, including Finland, Germany and Sweden, have had 4G networks for some time now, but the UK is lagging behind. However, the UK has had to wait until spectrum was freed up from the digital TV switchover, but matters have not been helped by bickering mobile operators.

Ofcom had been prepared to auction the use of the 800MHz spectrum and the 2.6GHz band in the first quarter of this year, but last October the regulator was forced to delay the spectrum auction yet again to allow for another consultation. This delay came despite Ofcom denying in September 2011 that it would delay the auction.

The policy advisory group Open Digital has previously warned that the delay in rolling out 4G networks would cost British businesses £730 million a year. It is claimed that the faster download speeds offered by 4G could save British companies more than 37 million business hours a year.

Ofcom meanwhile has warned that the first commercial 4G services are unlikely to appear before 2013, with nationwide rollout not completed until at least 2017.