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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Giving Europe a Mobile Broadband Boost
2012 Mobile World Congress
Barcelona, 27 February 2012
The mobile has changed our lives: how we communicate, create, and consume; how we transact, and how we interact. This transformative trend will continue in future: we need to prepare for it.
Already today, we see that new high-speed networks, new devices, and new content have caused the mobile market to rocket. Last year, European mobile data traffic doubled; by next year it will almost double again; by 2016 it could reach three trillion megabytes per month. To put that in perspective: three trillion megabytes a month is forty times the size of global internet traffic in 2000, wireless and fixed.
And it's not just the size of the demand that's changing: it’s the nature too; demand for a more tailored and seamless service. Users want to be in control, with access to content any time, anywhere and on any device. This opens the gate to a new ocean of innovation, an ecosystem on top of which new services and business models can soar.
We are giving the consumer choice, new tools and new opportunities. A choice of networks and how they can pay to access them. A glittering range of new ways to use their smartphone, from interacting with distant friends or colleagues while waiting for a bus, to using it to buy their morning coffee. And ever newer devices to enjoy this content on – like the iPad which, let's remember, did not even exist 2 years ago.
And we are helping lift Europe out of the economic crisis. We're giving SMEs new tools to stay in contact while on the move. We're stimulating whole new markets in digital creative content. We're giving Europe a mobile broadband boost.
Today, the industry has the confidence to invest: and the incentives to innovate. Across Europe, we have already seen huge sums pouring into next generation mobile technology. That shows I am not the only one with faith in the future. But still, we aren't yet keeping up with the pace set elsewhere: look at the USA, Asia, Latin America. And we should avoid the Euro crisis from denting our investment in the future.
The Digital Agenda has set out some very clear targets on broadband access: wireless helps deliver them. Already, wireless solutions are essential for getting basic broadband to those in rural areas where wired is not an option. But beyond that, I want every European to have 30 Megabit coverage by 2020: and that's where next generation wireless networks will play a very important role. Already today, in some places, 4G offers those speeds—if not higher.
But I also want at least half of Europeans to have ultra-fast access at over 100 Megabits by 2020: again, it is clear that no single technology will deliver this, no single magic potion will get us there overnight. We rather need an intelligent mix of complementary technologies, deployed incrementally, and according to local circumstances.
Such technologies include in particular Fibre-to-the-Home, upgraded Cable, Fibre-to-the-Cabinet and LTE. Even technologies which cannot normally deliver 100 Megabits themselves, or cannot do so now in 2012 at any rate: they will still help create a virtuous circle of supply and demand. European consumers will get used to obtaining better services and higher speeds, which will trigger new bandwidth-hungry applications and services, creating in turn the conditions for financing the competitive networks, wired and wireless, fixed and mobile, of 2020.
And compared to when we launched the Digital Agenda back in 2010, remember that we are seeing technological advances which make some existing infrastructures a much more promising and cost-effective part of the overall broadband mix. Even if there is still some work to be done to ensure that upgraded networks stay competitive.
But one thing is clear. Only by growing the portfolio of services can this remain an attractive, vibrant and creative industry. Staying where we are is not an option. Consumers have got used to their smartphones, they are getting used to their tablets. Businesses see the benefit in digital solutions. The industry must now respond: not only through technology but through the new business models that can create a new future. So lets talk about that in Europe: about how we can turn these challenges into opportunities.
The time for "blame games" and short-sighted approaches is over. Now's not the time to keep your cards to your chest and wait for others to make the first move. Now it's time to act, and I urge all players in the ecosystem to do that: to fully play their role in ensuring a prosperous future for Europe.
And if we are to build on our existing success in future, if we are to keep up the seemingly unstoppable dynamism of wireless communications, then we cannot have any citizen cut out of the wireless society – not by lack of network coverage, not by lack of choice, and not by excessive costs.
To do that, we must remove any constraints on the surging wireless economy: we must avoid a spectrum crunch. We have already achieved some notable successes, in releasing the digital dividend 800 Megahertz band for wireless broadband. The deadline we set to carry out the authorisation process for the use of this band is 1 January 2013. I am delighted that in six Member States, including Spain, that process has already been completed, well ahead of schedule. This is enabling investment to start to flow into 4G, and is showing just what we can achieve.
And we will take this success further. Under the EU's just-agreed radio spectrum policy programme, a European spectrum inventory will identify at least 1200 Megahertz of harmonised spectrum for wireless broadband by 2015. As it stands, we have not – yet – identified where that extra spectrum will come from. But, as you know, discussions on the possible allocation or co-allocation of the 700 Megahertz band for mobile broadband have already started in the past weeks in Geneva. A few Member States are already considering moving ahead in this band. So we must start working on a common EU approach to ensure the efficient and coherent use of this band across Europe.
But we must also look at novel ways to share spectrum: so that for example, public and commercial users, or different commercial sectors, can benefit from shared access to the same spectrum bands. I know that is a bold step, and indeed it may not be straightforward. But to such exponential challenges, we need creative answers.
And another thing we will consider in this context is the greater integration of fixed and wireless networks.
Because "fixed wireless solutions" can also help overcome possible spectrum bottlenecks. We already know how important WiFi is today, distributing broadband in homes, offices, and public places. Already today, WiFi traffic exceeds that on fully wired connections. And if we preserve the space for systems like WiFi, we can offload huge amounts of broadband traffic from mobile networks onto the fibre backbone. Freeing up mobile spectrum for the truly mobile traffic.
This combination between mobile and fixed wireless services will give more choice and freedom to consumers; and more business opportunities to mobile operators. Indeed it might offer us the best way to provide affordable and unrestricted Cloud access.
I will be returning to all these issues later this year, when we'll take our position on shared and collective use of spectrum.
Alongside these spectrum measures, we also need to promote sound and competitive markets. Flowing from the EU's framework, competition has already delivered for the mobile user, offering more choice, fairer prices and new opportunities for market access. From 2002 to 2010, mobile prices dropped 50% or more. Implementing the Commission's 2009 recommendation on mobile termination rates will take that even further: offering lower and fairer prices for virtually every European. Already we're seeing those effects in several Member States.
Let's build on that. Our policy programme will create a competitive market for radio spectrum. And we will inject competition into the roaming market too. How many of you, visiting Spain for this conference, are too nervous to use the full functionality of your smartphone or tablet? How many of you, instead, have to dart from one WiFi zone to another before you dare check your emails?
Well, I know that 40% of mobile customers are nervous about using data services abroad. Because, with EU roaming prices still so high, they know they could be in for a nasty surprise when they open their bill. That means they aren't getting the most value from their smartphone: and they aren't getting the most value from our Single Market, either.
That's why I am looking forward to a good result on roaming. And to getting an ambitious political agreement next month.
Such an agreement must secure a truly competitive Single Market for roaming services, with more choice and much lower consumer prices. Essentially through competitive market mechanisms. Including for large data users. In particular, we need a solution that is easy for consumers to understand and use. Because if the solution is too complicated for consumers it will be no solution at all. And in my mind, "local break out" is the best answer for data users: it is a simple solution which you can select and log onto just as easily as to a WiFi network. That's a boost for competition; and a boost for consumer confidence.
All in all, through our coordinated spectrum policy and enhanced competition in the roaming market, we can deliver a boost to the European consumer, a boost to our Single Market, and a boost to mobile industry innovation.
Then Europe will be well placed to compete in the global mobile marketplace, and to repeat the remarkable success of the last ten years.