Brussels, 3 September 2012
Digital Agenda: Commission moves to foster wireless innovation through sharing of radio spectrum
The European Commission today unveiled plans to deal with the exponential growth in mobile and wireless data traffic by enabling wireless technologies, including broadband, to share the use of the radio spectrum.
With new technologies it is possible to share radio spectrum amongst several users – such as internet providers – or use the spectrum available between TV frequencies, for example, for other purposes. National spectrum regulation often does not reflect the new technical possibilities, leaving mobile and broadband users at risk of poor service as demand grows, and preventing a single market for investment in such communications markets.
A coordinated European approach to sharing spectrum will lead to greater mobile network capacity, cheaper wireless broadband, and new markets such as tradable secondary rights for a given spectrum allocation.
Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe said: "Radio spectrum is economic oxygen, it is used by every single person and business. If we run out of spectrum then mobile networks and broadband won’t work. That is unacceptable, we must maximise this scarce resource by re-using it and creating a single market out of it. We need a single market for spectrum in order to regain global industrial leadership in mobile and data, to attract more R&D investments."
1) Regulators to support wireless innovation by monitoring and potentially extending the harmonised internal market bands in which no licence is required (so-called licence-exempt bands) through appropriate measures under the Radio Spectrum Decision (676/2002/EC),
2) Fostering consistent regulatory approaches across the EU for shared rights of use that give incentives and legal certainty to all users (current and new) who can share valuable spectrum resources.
The radio spectrum is an extremely valuable but also increasingly scarce resource. It is used more and more often by a wide range of applications in a variety of sectors and is a prerequisite for wireless broadband. The exponential increase in demand – for example driven by mobile computing devices, Wi-Fi hotspots but also smart electricity grids and industrial automation – means that Europe must use this finite resource more efficiently than in the past.
Industry sources predict that global mobile data traffic will increase 26 % annually by 2015. By then, more than 7 billion phones, tablets and other mobile devices will be connectable to the Internet.
Other wireless innovations that use spectrum include the wireless sensors and remote controls that run smart systems (e.g. by switching off lights when we are not at home or regulating air-conditioning systems according to temperature). In the harmonised 863-870 MHz licence-exempt band alone, at least 40 million of such wireless devices are sold each year in Europe.
However, the growing demand for wireless connectivity is coming up against limits in the available radio spectrum to meet it. There is, for example, no vacant spectrum left and the cost of re-allocating spectrum to new uses is high, in particular if current users have to switch off.
Through advances in technology, shared spectrum access makes additional resources available without compromising the incumbent license holder's rights to use the frequencies. For example, many new wireless technologies are designed to share bands in which no licence is required (licence-exempt bands). Others make additional spectrum resources available by, for example, providing wireless broadband services in between TV frequencies (so-called 'white spaces').
To maximise the benefits of such approaches to share spectrum, regulatory barriers need to be removed and incentives provided at EU level. In particular, new regulatory approaches need to give different users, including current holders, guaranteed rights to use a given frequency band on a shared basis with guaranteed levels of protection against interference.
The ongoing implementation of the spectrum inventory in accordance with the RSPP will provide relevant usage information about frequency bands and thus facilitate the identification of beneficial sharing opportunities (BSO) in the single market for both licensed and license-exempt spectrum. Once established, BSOs can also be recorded in the inventory as benchmarks for other geographical areas or similar use in other frequency bands.
The Commission seeks the support of the European Parliament and the Council for creating this more advanced regulatory environment in Europe.
MEMO/12/636 Digital Agenda: Maximising radio spectrum efficiency by sharing it
Linda Cain (+32 2 299 90 19)