EU sets 2020 deadline for freeing up 700 MHz band for mobile broadband

The European Council said the 700 MHz band should be made available for mobile broadband services across the European Union by 2020 as part of a harmonised approach to freeing up this spectrum band.

The council -- which consists of the heads of state or government of EU member states and defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities -- said EU countries must reassign the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) to mobile broadband services "under harmonised technical conditions" by Jun. 30, 2020.

It noted that the coordinated use of the frequency should promote the take-up of 4G and make it easier to roll out 5G as soon as it becomes available.

A member state would have the option of delaying the availability of the band by up to two years, but only "for duly justified reasons" such as interference or cross-border coordination issues.

The council has thus adopted the decision made at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15) in November to designate 700 MHz as a globally harmonised band, and follows efforts by the European Commission (EC) to seek greater European harmony on the use of the band by mobile services. The measure still has to be approved by the European parliament in order to become law in the EU.

The council's decision was welcomed by the GSMA, which noted that the timely and coordinated release of the 700 MHz band was critical for the development of mobile communications in Europe.

"We applaud the positive developments in countries such as France and Germany that have already licensed the 700 MHz frequencies well ahead of the 2020 deadline suggested by the proposal," the GSMA said.

The association also warned that the June 2017 and December 2017 dates for the completion of cross-border coordination and the publication of the national plans must be maintained "to avoid repeating the difficulties seen in the release of the 800 MHz band in Europe."

John Giusti, chief regulatory officer at the GSMA, said the association is hoping to see a "different scenario" than with the implementation of 800 MHz, where certain countries requested longer periods of time to release the band.

"We recognise that there are differences in frequency use among member states, and it is only natural that timing may vary slightly. However, we should agree on maintaining 2020 as an ultimate milestone in the shift to mobile for the 700 MHz band Without this commitment, Europe is at risk of falling behind other regions in mobile broadband development," Giusti said.

With regard to the sub-700 MHz (470-694) band the EU council has also broadly followed WRC-15 guidelines by stating that broadcasting services would keep priority in the sub-700 MHz band at least until 2030. The WRC-15 said the sub-700 MHz band would remain exclusively allocated to terrestrial TV services in ITU "Region 1" -- which includes Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

However, the council has also retained some flexibility for this band, noting that member states "would be allowed to use this range for other purposes, including mobile Internet services, under certain conditions."

The GSMA said it considered the "flexibility option" that was initially proposed by the EC as "a limited step in the right direction".

For more:
- see the statement from the European Council
- see this statement from the GSMA

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