MEPs Adopt Open Approach To Spectrum Allocation

The European Parliament has officially approved plans to allow more open access to radio spectrum in Europe.

MEPs in Strasbourg adopted a bill, known as the radio spectrum policy programme (RSPP), that will provide direction for the EU’s policy on spectrum allocation for the next few years.

At the moment, many 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.

Open Policy

“Bringing fast broadband web access to all European citizens and businesses, including those located in rural areas or on remote islands, is impossible without wireless Internet, which needs dedicated radio frequencies for uninterrupted connection,” said the European Parliament in a statement. “This can be achieved by allocating the ‘digital dividend’ – the radio frequency bands that will be freed up when Member States switch from analogue to digital television broadcasting.”

The EU Parliament hopes that users will be able to achieve “high speed connections with at least 30 Mbps for all by 2020, thus bridging the digital divide.”

Spectrum Bands

At the moment, the allocation of radio frequencies is under the control of various national authorities (Ofcom in the UK) and not the EU. But the Commission is hoping that the EU’s RSPP will “help co-ordinate the use of the spectrum and promote greater flexibility and availability.”

It will do this by making European countries free up the 800MHz frequency band so that it is “available for harmonised use of wireless broadband services by 1 January 2013.” That said, an amendment passed by the Parliament’s Industry Committee would postpone this until the end of 2015.

In the UK, Ofcom has already said that the auction of spectrum around 800MHz and 2.6GHz will take place in the first quarter of 2012.

“I want Europe to have the best broadband capacity and the highest speeds, because then we will be home to the development of all the new services that will be crucial to the modern economy. I want Europe to be the home to the next generation of Googles, Yahoos, Apples and all other companies that are manifestations of competitiveness and innovation,” said Swedish MEP Gunnar Hökmark.

And MEPs are not stopping there. They also want the spectrum bands of 1.5GHz and 2.3GHz to be made available for mobile broadband, while the spectrum allocated for mobile data traffic should reach at least 1200MHz by 2015, they say.

Other Amendments

MEPs also adopted amendments encouraging unlicensed uses of spectrum, and in particular of so-called “white spaces” (bands of frequencies located between frequencies allocated to industries and left unused). In addition, other amendments could allow the use of small antennas that can be used by citizens and businesses in conjunction with landline broadband to build wireless mesh networks.

These technologies could expand mobile broadband coverage in rural areas for example, thus assisting in bridging the digital divide.

“By turning parts of the airwaves into a shared resource once again, we can lower the cost of broadband roll-out, help bridge the digital divide and kick-start the new wave of innovation in mobile communications. This vote is a first step in this direction,” said Félix Tréguer, policy and legal analyst for La Quadrature du Net, an advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet.

“The EU Parliament cast a very encouraging vote in favour of free and open wireless communications, and successfully resisted the pressure of telecoms and broadcasting industries who want to remain in control of airwaves,” said Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson of La Quadrature du Net. “We now need to make sure that the Member States and the Commission will actually and promptly follow the opinion of the Parliament towards an open spectrum policy.”

The European Council will discuss the plans on 27 May.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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