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IP/10/540

Brussels, 6 May 2010

Radio spectrum: harmonised EU rules to foster high-speed wireless internet services and avoid harmful interference

The European Commission has adopted a Decision establishing harmonised technical rules for Member States on the allocation of radio frequencies in the 800 MHz band that contribute to the deployment of high-speed wireless internet services by avoiding harmful interference. In several Member States the 800 MHz frequencies are being freed up as part of the so-called "digital dividend" resulting from the switchover from analogue to digital television broadcasting. If Member States decide to change the existing frequency allocation (for broadcasting) they must immediately apply the harmonised technical rules laid down by the Decision to make these frequencies available to wireless broadband applications. Today's decision does not itself require Member States to make available the 790-862 MHz band for electronic communication services. However, the Commission is considering such a proposal in the forthcoming Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, which will take account of a recent consultation on the subject and the 22-23 March Spectrum Summit organised by the Commission and the European Parliament (see IP/10/232).

Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "This Decision paves the way for implementation of innovative broadband technologies and for the fast growing demand for wireless services to be met. I encourage Member States to take the necessary steps to implement the Decision, so that European businesses and citizens can take full advantage of the benefits of the switchover to digital TV."

The Commission strongly supports the use of the 790-862 MHz band (currently used for broadcasting in most Member States) for electronic communication services and wants EU countries to act quickly, as coordinated management of this spectrum could give an economic boost of up to €44 billion to the EU's economy and help to achieve the EU 2020 Strategy target of high-speed broadband for all by the end of 2013 (with speeds gradually increasing up to 30 Mbts and above in 2020 - see IP/10/225).

The new Commission Decision stipulates that all Member States which decide to make available the 790-862 MHz spectrum band (the so-called 800 MHz band) for services other than broadcasting should apply the same harmonised technical rules when they do so. These technical rules will ensure that radio communications equipment, like handsets or base stations using the 800 MHz band, can be used efficiently for wireless broadband networks, such as 4th generation mobile technology (e.g. LTE or Wimax). LTE and Wimax enable larger amounts of information to be processed and transmitted than today e.g. for high quality (on demand) video streaming to mobile/smart phones and other devices without interruptions.

Telecoms industry experts estimate that infrastructure to provide mobile broadband coverage using the 800 MHz band will be around 70% cheaper than through using the radio frequencies currently used by 3rd generation mobile technology (UMTS). The lower costs involved in rolling out such networks will make these investments more attractive for operators, which should improve the geographic coverage of wireless broadband services. Application of the technical rules for frequency allocation foreseen by this Decision will substantially increase the potential economic benefits of the digital dividend by giving a new impetus to wireless internet services.

Until now, the 800 MHz band has been used for terrestrial TV broadcasting in most Member States. The new rules laid down in the Decision set out conditions for allocation of nearly one quarter of the frequencies that will become available when Member States switch from analogue to digital broadcasting (due by end 2012 – see IP/09/266). The Commission is currently working on a Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (see IP/10/232) that will take into account the other elements of the digital dividend and may also include a common date by which all Member States must make the 800 MHz band available.

Background

EU Member States should complete their switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial television by the end of 2012 (see IP/09/266). The move will free up an unprecedented amount of spectrum, known as the "digital dividend".

Radio spectrum management in Europe remains a national competence, but spectrum coordination at EU level is increasingly needed as most new wireless applications are mass market services which, to be commercially viable, depend on economies of scale and the benefits of the Single Market (i.e. devices and services need to work in all EU Member States).

A study conducted for the Commission found that, compared to individual national plans, appropriate EU coordination would increase the potential economic impact of the digital dividend substantially (between €17 and €44 billion depending on the scenario chosen) with an overall positive social impact. For details see

http://www.analysysmason.com/EC_digital_dividend_study.

Today's Decision is available at:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/ecomm/radio_spectrum/documents/legislation/index_en.htm#800mhz

For more details, see MEMO/10/170.


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