EU's Kroes turns up pressure on 'second digital dividend'

A newly appointed European advisory group has been given just six months to come up with some compelling proposals for the future uses of UHF spectrum in the 470-790 MHz band, and the pressure to achieve fast results is being applied by none other than the European Union's digital chief, Neelie Kroes.

Demand for spectrum to meet growing consumer usage of broadcast and mobile communications services is set to grow exponentially in the coming years, and the 470-790 MHz spectrum band is the latest set of frequencies to come under EU scrutiny.

"Europe needs to use spectrum more effectively if we want to benefit from the latest TV and internet developments," said Kroes. "That's why we need a new consensus on how to use broadcast spectrum."

The advisory group will include representatives from broadcasters, network operators, mobile companies and technology associations and will be chaired by Pascal Lamy, a former chief of the World Trade Organisation and a former European Commissioner.

Lamy will face the usual thorny issue of how to placate the broadcast industry as the mobile industry seeks to take yet more of its spectrum away from it. The 700 MHz band is already being described as the second digital dividend following the allocation of frequencies in the 800-MHz band – the first digital dividend - for mobile broadband services.

"The discussion on the 800 megahertz band, which has already been released for mobile broadband, showed that the old battle lines are still there," noted Kroes during her speech on the issue. "Sometimes this debate can be rather sterile," she added, perhaps somewhat diplomatically.

Others might describe previous debates between broadcasters and the mobile industry as downright hostile. 700-MHz spectrum is a valuable resource for the broadcast sector in Europe, for example, and the battles over the first digital dividend in the 800-MHz band are still fresh in the minds of mobile and broadcast players alike. Nevertheless, there is growing pressure to make more spectrum below 1 GHz available for mobile broadband as usage grows.

Indeed, the World Radiocommunication Conference 2012 made the somewhat surprise decision to open up the 700-MHz spectrum band to markets in Europe, Africa and the Middle East; the band was already available for use by mobile communications in North America and Asia-Pacific. This raised the possibility for the first time of a globally harmonised spectrum band for LTE devices.

The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) initially rejected the proposal made by African and Arabic countries at WRC-12 to open up the 700-MHz spectrum. However, the CEPT eventually agreed a compromise that allowed African and Arabic countries to use the 700-MHz band (694 MHz-790 MHz) for mobile communications with immediate effect, but delayed the opening of the band in Europe until after the next WRC in 2015.

"Well before that, Europe needs to know where we are going on this issue," said Kroes.

For more:
- see this speech by Neelie Kroes
- see this release from the European Commission

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