The lack of LTE access in Europe is becoming embarrassing

It's summertime and the living is easy--but not if you're in Malta, Ireland or Cyprus and want access to an LTE network. Operators in these three countries have so far failed to provide any kind of LTE services, and are now being hung out to dry for this shoddy performance by the European Commission. In Europe as a whole, only Germany, Estonia and Sweden have an advanced rollout of LTE services.

This latest missive from Neelie Kroes is the equivalent of a "Howler," for those of you who have ever read the Harry Potter books. The EU digital chief roundly castigates operators across Europe for the lack of LTE access in rural areas, which essentially means that residents in these areas are being treated as second-class citizens, commented Kroes' spokesman, Ryan Heath, in a video interview, which you can check out here.

"It doesn't matter where you are, you pay money for a device and mobile subscription and it should work," Kroes said. She blames Europe's expensive and fragmented spectrum auctions that have caused financial difficulties for operators, which in turn leads to network rollout delays.

So if you are heading to an idyllic beach or mountain location for your summer holidays this year, don't expect to enjoy fast data speeds while you are there--although perhaps many of you plan to actually turn off your smartphones and tablets to escape the tyranny of daily email and social network updates.

Whatever the case, Kroes clearly believes that access to reliable mobile data services is now a right that any subscriber should expect. However, three-quarters of Europe has no LTE access, she said, and Europe accounts for just 5 per cent of LTE subscriptions globally.

Kroes again hauls up the United States as the shining example, where, she argues, more than 90 per cent of people have access to the high-speed broadband services.

This year has certainly seen increased activity in LTE rollouts across Europe, with new services appearing for the first time in major markets such as the UK and France. More people than ever before are now able to buy LTE devices and actually use them in Europe. However, Kroes is right: progress is still slow and Europe must really seem like "Old Europe" to visitors from the new world with their multiple LTE gadgets and shared data plans.

"EDGE, how quaint!" they must exclaim, after first asking what on earth that big "E" means in the corner of their screen. Living in France, I am frequently thrown off 3G and on to the Orange EDGE network, and I don't care how many times the GSM industry insists that EDGE is a good fallback. It is not.

I digress, although this is an illustration of how far Europe still has to go in many areas. But before things get better, they could get a whole lot worse, or so Kroes argues. The inadequacy of Europe's fragmented spectrum allocation system at national level was further exacerbated when 14 EU member states asked permission to postpone the use of the 800 MHz band for wireless broadband services "due to exceptional reasons"." The European Commission said it "reluctantly granted" nine of these requests.

The Commission now plans to include proposals for a more harmonised allocation of spectrum in its package for a single market for telecoms, to be presented later this year. This does not sound like something that is going to happen very quickly, however. The Commission says it is "very worried" about the state of LTE access in Europe. As an industry, we should be, too.--Anne

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