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Mobile broadband services

Mobile broadband services are being deployed throughout the European Union (EU) and are promoting its economic competitiveness. Technological and regulatory barriers are threatening European leadership in mobile communications services and this Communication looks at the challenges to be overcome in establishing a policy and regulatory framework for the sector's development.

ACT

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 30 June 2004 on mobile broadband services [COM(2004) 447 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

This Communication examines the broader policy and regulatory environment for mobile broadband services. The principal aim is to ensure access to information at all times and in all locations within the European Union and to maintain European leadership in the sector. The Communication indicates how the challenges may be met and, in drawing it up, the Commission consulted widely with industry players through the Mobile Communications and Technology Platform and a workshop on the mobile sector held in June 2004.

EU labour productivity has improved considerably over recent years and this progress has been based to a great extent on electronic communications services, which are essential for Europe's economic competitiveness. Two trends can be discerned in this sector in Europe:

  • broadband growth of more than 80% in 2003;
  • mobile revenues have overtaken those of fixed telephony.

Looking forward, the convergence of telecommunications, broadcasting and internet will result in the proliferation of high speed multimedia services delivered over mobile networks. For example, mobile users will be able to shop and pay on-line and receive a whole range of audio-visual services such as music and video.

For the Commission, it is vital to overcome the political and technological barriers to achieving the aims that have been set in order to ensure the success of these systems and to prepare the future by means of concerted action at EU level.

Research and innovation

The EU will only maintain its competitive advantage by focussing on innovation. Competitiveness on the world market is based not only on profitability but also on the capacity to innovate. The Commission intends to launch a comprehensive programme of integrated activities to promote cooperation between the major players in the pre-competitive research phase.

There is a growing fragmentation of the mobile and wireless communications market. To prevent this, research must address the entire value chain, from technological development to the development of services, which will require European and then global standards and platforms.

In the context of the preparation of the 7th Framework Programme, the "Mobile Communications and Technology Platform" initiative provides an opportunity to put in place a formal technology platform in the mobile and wireless communications sector. The aim of this structure would be to draw up a strategic research agenda, achieve the necessary critical mass for research and innovation and mobilise substantial public and private funding.

The interoperability of services, content and terminals is critical for achieving the goal of mass market adoption. In the Commission's opinion, without interoperability, markets could collapse. To prevent fragmentation of the markets for third generation mobile communication systems, interoperability between the various services and terminals is vital.

A number of fora are involved in service specification and standardisation with the aim of providing service interoperability. The cooperation between the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and the Global Certification Forum (GCF) and the agenda of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) provide a good basis on which to build. However, the increased complexity brought about by a converging environment presents a new challenge that needs to be addressed.

Technical challenges

The Commission aims to stimulate the demand for mobile communications and the development of new services. To do this, it is essential to increase the range and quality of the content available on mobile. There are, however, many obstacles to be overcome, which the Commission hopes to eliminate so as to ensure the fast take-up of mobile services in Europe. The Commission intends to conduct a study on technical and other potential obstacles.

A secure environment for content is crucial for the development of these services. The rights to protected digital content require new business models that guarantee the effective payment of intellectual property rights.

National law applies for determining the compensation to be paid for the reproduction of protected content for private use. In deciding on the level of compensation, the availability of digital rights management systems and services for the distribution of content over mobile communications needs to be taken into consideration.

Legally, the traditional system of territorial licences granted by national rightholders applies for mobile communications. These licences no longer meet the needs of the information society in the enlarged European Union. The Commission is therefore proposing Community licences for mobile content issued using a one-stop-shop mechanism (COM(2004) 261).

The Commission is aiming for greater flexibility in radio spectrum usage in the EU. The Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) is currently reviewing approaches to spectrum management for broadband mobile services. The Group favours a coordinated European approach based on market-oriented solutions and free or "unlicensed" use of spectrum with exclusive usage rights.

The use of mobile phone pre-paid cards as a means of payment to purchase products and services, other than communication services, may be classed as the use of electronic money. Mobile broadband services extend this use of electronic money but, pending the creation of a new legal framework providing for a single EU payment area, mobile operators are faced with uncertainties regarding the current Community rules on electronic money and money laundering (Directive on electronic money).

In the short term, the mobile industry needs an appropriate interim solution that provides a degree of legal certainty. The Commission will lay down criteria for national regulators in applying the Directive. The regulatory authorities should aim to apply only the minimum regulation needed to ensure appropriate coverage of risks for financial stability and consumer protection.

From networks to people

Third generation mobile communications will require a greater number of base stations than previous GSM networks owing to the higher frequency bands used. Problems with obtaining legal authorisation in each of the Member States are hampering the physical deployment of 3G networks. More generally, the Commission takes the view that the health and safety of citizens is adequately protected, provided that exposure of the public remains below EU limits.

The use of personal and sensitive data concerning individuals and companies requires reliable and secure identification and authentication procedures. A common interoperable authentication framework is needed to ensure general purpose authentication across Europe.

International cooperation on research and development is essential. The Commission takes the view that the benefits of open and global standards should be exploited to achieve global interoperability.

RELATED ACTS

Commission Communication of 11 June 2002, Towards the Full Roll-Out of Third Generation Mobile Communications [COM(2002) 301 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

This Communication summarises the situation in the sector. The roll-out of third generation mobile services (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) or "3G" services) has been slower than expected and is facing a number of difficulties. The Communication also identifies the main challenges that must be overcome so that 3G services can fulfil their role in building a competitive, dynamic information society.

Last updated: 31.03.2006
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