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Brussels, 6 May 2010

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

(see also IP/10/540)

What are the implications of today's Decision?

If a European family has a wireless device, they expect it to work without problems while they are on a holiday in another Member State. Such targeted applications require EU-wide coordination.

Today's Decision specifies that all Member States that decide to open the 790-862 MHz spectrum sub-band (the so called 800 MHz band) to services other than broadcasting, should allocate it for wireless broadband services under harmonised technical conditions.

These technical conditions will ensure that radio communications equipment, like handsets or base stations using the 800 MHz band, can be used efficiently to deploy a wide range of possible wireless broadband solutions including 4th generation mobile communications technologies, also known as Long Term Evolution (LTE) or WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access). 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.

This in turn, should lower the cost of producing transmission equipment such as handsets and base stations which can operate throughout the Single Market. In this way, the Commission sets clear conditions for the allocation of nearly one quarter of the digital dividend. This is a critical amount of spectrum that has the potential to boost the economy.

While today's decision does not itself require Member States to open the 800 MHz band to wireless broadband services (but simply provides harmonised technical conditions for those who decide to do so), the Commission is considering such a proposal in the framework of the forthcoming Radio Spectrum Policy Program, 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).

What is the digital dividend?

The digital dividend refers to the radio spectrum which becomes available as a result of the switchover of terrestrial television transmission from analogue to digital technology. Digital transmission uses the spectrum more efficiently and allows for the same television channels to be carried using five to six times less radio spectrum thus freeing the space for other uses such as wireless broadband.

When will the spectrum freed by digital switchover become available in Europe?

The digital dividend is partially available in six EU Member States (Belgium, Finland, Germany, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and Sweden) that have already switched off analogue broadcasting and released the corresponding radio frequencies.

However, the digital dividend will be fully available for use only when all EU countries switch off analogue broadcasting and move to digital TV in a coordinated way and follow harmonised technical requirements. Member States have committed to complete their switchover from analogue to digital terrestrial television by the end of 2012 (IP/09/266).

How will the Decision affect citizens and businesses?

Demand for new wireless broadband services is growing rapidly and the deployment of new wireless broadband services will create new investment opportunities and possibilities for companies to expand their products and services. The harmonisation of the rules among Member States ensures that businesses can develop cross-border services, taking advantage of the economies of scale. Eventually, this will boost the growth of the European economy. Moreover, wireless broadband can provide internet access in remote areas which are not yet reachable by current broadband technologies, benefitting about 13% of the total EU population who live in these areas. This should reduce the digital divide between rural and urban areas.

What is the potential economic impact of the distribution of the digital dividend?

The potential economic impact of the Decision will depend on the actual deployment of new services, determined by future demand for them. The Commission has estimated the potential benefit of EU coordination of the digital dividend spectrum at between €17 billion to €44 billion, depending on the type of scenario for demand and supply. This estimate includes the value of unforeseeable new applications that could emerge in the future in the 800 MHz spectrum. For details see

Won't the new wireless broadband interfere with existing services?

There are typically two types of interference:

  • minimal interference which is considered as acceptable as it causes only mild disruption,

  • more harmful interference, which has to be prevented through adequate spectrum management regulation and the use of appropriate mitigation technologies.

The current decision for the 800 MHz band is based on in-depth technical studies which take due account of the need to protect existing and future services and allow for harmonious co-existence of equipment.

As with every new service, additional live testing and final coordination between applications may be needed when the infrastructure is deployed

The Commission is closely monitoring this process and will ensure that interference risks will be managed following the highest quality standards in this field.

What is the deadline for Member States to abide to today's decision?

From the moment Member States decide to open the 800 MHz band for networks other than terrestrial broadcasting (television), they must immediately apply the harmonised technical rules laid down by the Decision to make these frequencies available to wireless broadband applications.

What are the next steps?

The Commission will outline proposals on the next steps for the digital dividend as part of the forthcoming Radio Spectrum Policy Programme 2011-2015 (see IP/10/232). The proposal may also include a target date by which all Member States would have to make the 800 MHz band available for broadband services.

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