Brussels, 12 June 2002
Commission reports on perspective for full roll-out of 3G
The European Commission today adopted a Communication entitled "Towards the Full Roll-Out of Third Generation Mobile Communications" as a report to the forthcoming Seville Council. It takes stock of the situation in Europe at a moment when nearly all Member States have issued licences for third generation (3G) mobile services and networks, as the first 3G networks are starting to be rolled-out and when the first commercial applications are being announced. The Communication identifies the major challenges ahead which all actors involved need to tackle if 3G is to fulfil the great expectations and its significant potential in building the EU information society which the Commission addresses through its eEurope 2005 Action Plan(1).
The Communication(2) provides an overview of the situation of the 3G sector today, analyses the major financial, technical and regulatory challenges associated with the roll-out of 3G networks and services and identifies options to support this process. The Communication is the response to the request formulated by the European Council of Barcelona to the Commission, "to present at the Seville European Council a comprehensive analysis of remaining barriers to the full roll-out of 3G mobile communications" (3). At the same time, the Communication measures the evolution of 3G since the last report provided by the Commission.(4)
"Commercially-viable advanced wireless systems, including 3G, will be one indispensable contribution to the goals set out by the EU in Lisbon to achieve a competitive knowledge-based economy for Europe, as pursued under the eEurope initiative", says Mr Erkki Liikanen, European Commissioner responsible for Enterprise and the Information Society. "To achieve this objective it is necessary to pave the way for the roll-out 3G networks and services. We are committed to contribute to this task."
The deployment of 3G, a new wireless network and service generation, constitutes the final stage of a continuous effort of development over several years. The progress achieved over the last twelve months suggests that the new technology is essentially ready. Several operators have started implementing 3G networks, but 3G is not at this stage a market reality. However, there is growing evidence of significant market potential for wireless data services that will constitute the added value of 3G, though uncertainty about the detailed evolution of the market persists. New data services currently launched by operators using an enhanced GSM environment (2.5G services offered over GSM-GPRS access networks) will constitute an important test for many operators, while others have chosen a direct transition to 3G with first commercial offers announced for the end of this year.
The financial environment constitutes a heavy burden for the communications sector overall, which also affects 3G roll-out plans, as operators focus on improving their financial standing. Besides a general economic recovery, to which the mobile sector including 3G could considerably contribute, the Commission believes that the sector is best served by letting the market drive the process ahead, and by allowing for the deployment of a healthy competitive environment to generate new products which consumers will want to buy and use.
Public authorities, including the Commission, can contribute to sustaining confidence in the sector by ensuring a favourable, predictable and stable regulatory environment conducive to a competitive market serving consumers' interests.
The Commission believes that although, in principle, 3G licensing conditions should not be changed, in order to ensure a predictable environment and legal certainty favourable to long-term investments, flexibility is recommended in case of unpredictable changes of circumstances requiring adaptations. These should remain proportional and transparent. For that purpose, the Commission is ready to examine solutions for a harmonised approach with the Member States - which are responsible for the licences, as it did for conditions applying to network infrastructure sharing.
In the short term, public authorities should facilitate the physical deployment of networks by harmonising the applicable rules for the authorisations of base stations and speeding up the procedures for the acquisition of sites. In addition, they can help improving public awareness on safe usage of mobile equipment.
The success of 3G will critically depend on the development of attractive applications and content. This challenge is best addressed by the market players, but the Commission can give support through seeding research activities (e.g. validating multilingual content development) and by fostering the implementation of public services and applications (eGovernment) over several access platforms including 3G.
In the longer term, the harmonisation in licensing conditions and radio spectrum assignment approaches across the European Union may favour the integration in the Internal Market for communications and avoid market distortions and uncertainty in the sector, also in view of the future enlargement of the European Union. A more flexible framework for handling rights to use radio spectrum needs to be discussed.
The Commission intends to use the new regulatory framework for electronic communications to work together with the national administrations to develop new harmonised approaches to licensing and attribution of rights to use radio spectrum for wireless applications.
Erkki Liikanen said, "The roll-out of 3G is a continuous process which requires and deserves continued attention by public authorities when accompanying the efforts of market players themselves. There are no simple answers to the challenges ahead, but 3G has developed sufficient momentum to overcome the present difficulties. The Commission remains confident in this respect."
(1) eEurope 2005: An information society for all, COM(2002)263, 28.5.02, available at: HYPERLINK "http://europa.eu.int/information_society/eeurope/action_plan/index_en.htm" http://europa.eu.int/information_society/eeurope/action_plan/index_en.htm
(2) COM(2002)301, available from 12 June 2002 at: HYPERLINK "http://europa.eu.int/information_society/topics/telecoms/radiospec/mobile/communications/index_en.htm" http://europa.eu.int/information_society/topics/telecoms/radiospec/mobile/communications/index_en.htm.
(3) Barcelona European Council of March 2002, Presidency Conclusions, paragraph 41. The full text can be found at HYPERLINK "http://ue.eu.int/en/info/eurocouncil/index.htm" http://ue.eu.int/en/info/eurocouncil/index.htm.
(4) The introduction of Third Generation Mobile Communications in the European Union: State of Play and the Way forward, COM(2001)141, 20.3.01. The text can be found at: HYPERLINK "http://europa.eu.int/information_society/topics/telecoms/radiospec/mobile/communications/index_en.htm" http://europa.eu.int/information_society/topics/telecoms/radiospec/mobile/communications/index_en.htm