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Brussels, 27 July 2009

EU frees new spectrum for new and faster mobile services

Europe took an important step towards a new generation of mobile services today. The Council of Ministers followed the European Parliament in approving a proposal from the European Commission to modernise European legislation – the so-called GSM Directive – on the use of the radio spectrum needed for mobile services. The GSM Directive of 1987 reserves the use of part of the 900MHz spectrum band to GSM (Global System for Mobile or originally Groupe Spécial Mobile) access technologies such as mobile phones. The updated Directive now allows the 900 MHz frequency band to be used to provide faster, pan-European services such as mobile internet while ensuring the continuation of GSM services. This new flexibility will foster stronger competition on Europe's telecoms market and contribute to a more rapid and more widespread roll-out of wireless broadband services, one of the drivers of economic recovery. Industry savings of up to € 1.6 billion are expected from the reform of the GSM Directive. The renewed Directive will enter into force this October. The Commission had proposed the reform of the GSM Directive in parallel to the reform of the EU Telecoms Rules. The reformed GSM Directive is the first of several important Directives in the telecoms sector being negotiated where the agreement of Parliament and Council now paves the way for a stronger wireless economy.

" The GSM standard has been a success story for Europe, where it was born. By updating the GSM Directive, the EU has paved the way for a new generation of services and technologies where Europe can be a world leader," said EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding. "I would like to thank the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers for making this possible by swiftly agreeing to the reform of this very important piece of telecoms legislation. This reform will remove constraints on operators so that they can deploy new technologies in the GSM bands to develop high-speed mobile broadband services. This should give a welcome boost to Europe's wireless economy and help trigger the take-off of a Digital Europe."

In November 2008, the European Commission proposed to share the airwaves allocated to mobile phones with other more advanced technologies, starting with 3G mobile broadband technology (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, UMTS). The proposal was approved by the European Parliament in May with 578 votes ( MEMO/09/219 ). With today's final endorsement of the 27 EU Telecoms Ministers, the reformed Directive can now enter into force. The new rules also make it easier to adapt spectrum allocation in the 900 MHz frequency band to allow even newer 4 th generation high-speed broadband technologies to be deployed.

Consumers' existing handsets will continue to work without problems, but they can also use new technologies to access high-speed broadband services. The reformed Directive will also have a positive economic effect on the sector and promote the take-up of new wireless services, thanks to reductions in network costs resulting from the use of lower frequency bands. This will lead to telecoms industry savings of up to € 1.6 billion in capital costs for the provision of a single Europe-wide network.


The 1987 GSM Directive allocated certain radio frequencies (in the 900 MHz band) to GSM services. However, the Directive needed to be brought up to date to allow more advanced, next generation wireless technologies to also use this band of the radio spectrum.

In November 2008, t he Commission responded to the increasing pace of technological change by proposing to modify the Directive in order to allow new technologies to co-exist with GSM in the 900 MHz frequencies. The 900 MHz band will be opened to other systems once the technical possibility of co-existence with GSM has been established. This will start with UMTS which has already been shown to be compatible.

In her speech "Digital Europe – Europe's Fast Track to Economic Recovery" of 9 July ( SPEECH/09/336 ), EU Telecoms Commissioner Reding had presented a "Digital Agenda for Europe" which included, as one of the first action items, a swift agreement on the reform of the GSM Directive.

Next steps

The updated Directive will be signed by the Presidents of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in September and then be published in the EU's Official Journal. At the same time, the Commission will adopt a Decision, which will enter into force on the same day as the updated Directive, setting out the technical measures allowing for the co-existence of GSM (2G mobile phones) and UMTS systems (3G phones that add high-speed mobile internet to regular phone services) on GSM frequencies in line with the Directive. This Decision will be based on the EU's Radio Spectrum Decision that sets up a mechanism for the adoption of technical harmonisation rules based on input received from national radio frequency experts. It foresees the possibility of amendments to include technical usage parameters for further non GSM systems for which compatibility may be established at a later stage. National administrations will then have six months to transpose the Directive and to implement the Decision so that the GSM spectrum bands are effectively made available for 3G.

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