On 20 September 2010, the European Commission (EC) announced a package of three measures to facilitate the rollout of broadband in Europe. One of these is a proposal to establish a five-year Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP).
The RSPP measures reinforce the steps already being taken by a number of national regulatory authorities (NRAs) to ensure spectrum availability to achieve the target of 100% broadband coverage by 2013.
The deadlines in the RSPP proposal provide a much-needed timeline for those countries yet to make progress. While the proposed measures also give some clarity to operators looking to plan their commercial deployments of next-generation mobile services, there will still be hurdles to overcome.
One of the proposals from the RSPP is to mandate the freeing up of the 800MHz (790–862MHz) sub-band of the digital dividend by 2013 (or 2015 at the latest, in special circumstances where it can’t be freed up by 2013) to be used for wireless broadband.
This is linked to the EC’s previous initiatives, such as the Recommendation and Communication on the digital dividend from October 2009 (see “EC to harmonize the 800MHz band for mobile broadband”) and the approval of the technical harmonization of the 800MHz band from May 2010 (see “EC approves technical harmonization of the 800MHz band”).
The suitability of this spectrum to cover large areas with fewer base stations and its harmonization in Europe so far (seven countries including France and the UK have already designated the band for wireless broadband) attest the suitability of the proposed measure.
While freeing up the 800MHz band should be a relatively straightforward task for most EU countries, the actual award of frequencies is another matter entirely.
So far only Germany has auctioned the band, and the high-profile dispute in the UK concerning access to prime spectrum below 1GHz demonstrates the likely challenge that NRAs are going to face and just how immediate the deadline of 2013 is.
Another of the EC’s proposals, to ensure that member states allow spectrum trading in the harmonized bands, may make the auctioning of new frequencies easier where overall spectrum caps are placed on operators.
The proposal is important because without adequate spectrum, the deployment of next-generation mobile services and in particular the rollout of broadband is a non-event.
Promisingly, at the heart of the EC proposal is a plan to complete the award of spectrum that has already been technically harmonized for wireless broadband. The EC has proposed that all member states complete awards in the 900/1800MHz band, the 2.5GHz band, and the 3.4–3.8GHz band by 2012.
These bands, together with the digital dividend, will be essential to deliver the key goals of the Digital Agenda for Europe: broadband for all by 2013 and broadband coverage at 30Mbps or more for 100% of EU citizens by 2020.
In Europe, there are many countries deploying LTE networks using the 2.5GHz band. Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden have now awarded the 2.5GHz band.
Most operators with licenses have already started to deploy LTE networks, and TeliaSonera commercially launched its LTE networks in Stockholm and Oslo in December 2009 as the first commercial LTE network operator in the world.
A potential new source of LTE spectrum could come from re-farming spectrum that has already been allocated for other services, such as the 900/1800MHz band previously allocated for GSM services.
The 900/1800MHz band will eventually be considered a good substitute for the 2.5GHz band for LTE deployment, and so where this has already been allocated bidding may be less intense for higher frequencies.