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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Finding the spectrum to power the wireless revolution
Spectrum Management Conference, Brussels
19 June 2012
I am delighted to be with you once again. I'm glad this is becoming an annual opportunity for me to meet you, the frontline experts on spectrum developments!
And you know, none of us, neither politicians nor experts, should ever forget the role radio spectrum plays.
In Europe alone, it supports 3.5 million jobs and more than one quarter of a trillion euros of economic activity each year.
Working together ensures an even bigger boost. EU coordination of digital dividend spectrum could boost the impact by one to three billion euros per year.
Meanwhile, wireless broadband can play a significant role getting every European digital. It has become a leading way for Europeans to access the internet: already over 170 million of us can access the internet through our phones.
And ever faster. By 2020, I want all Europeans to have coverage at over 30 Megabits per second. It's clear that no single technology will deliver this overnight. But in some places, 4G mobile networks already offer those speeds—if not higher.
So now is an excellent time to look at what has happened since last year's conference.
First, we have seen amazing new uses of spectrum. We've seen new 4G investments, and new networks.
There are new ways to make use of mobile broadband – new devices, new apps, new services.
And overall, mobile data traffic more than doubled in one year. By 2016, such traffic in Europe could reach three trillion megabytes a month.
Second, we have seen increasing freeing up of spectrum. Analogue TV signals in more and more countries have been switched off, as we prepare to get the huge benefits of the digital dividend in the 800 Megahertz band.
Third, we agreed and adopted our Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, ahead of schedule. A framework to help make spectrum available, enhance flexibility and efficiency, and promote competition, without fragmentation.
Bringing down the barriers to exponential mobile growth.
Fourth, we had the World Radio Conference– and in particular, developments on the 700 MHz band.
Today I'd like to talk to you about how we plan to take all these issues forward. How to respond to developments – how to use our new toolbox to deliver for the industries using spectrum - and how to boost our overall economy.
I always said the Radio Spectrum Programme would be ambitious. And perhaps nowhere is it more so than in our targets for wireless broadband: by 2015, to have at least 1200 MHz of spectrum for that purpose, across the EU.
We should start with the spectrum that is already harmonised: already that amounts to over 1000 MHz. I want that to be offered up through spectrum awards by next year, if it's not already done.
There is already good progress in some countries, but others lag behind. Sweden is already there; Denmark, Estonia, Germany and Latvia are there or are getting close; but 10 Member States are not even half way there!
We need to continue and complete that process.
But still, offering the spectrum already harmonised won't be enough. To meet the massive growing demand for wireless connectivity, we'll need to free up yet more.
I know - we all know - that this is easier said than done. Spectrum is a unique resource: but a finite one; it doesn't grow on trees. And so we'll need to be creative and innovative in seeking it.
This is why we need a spectrum inventory. And we will be administering this, as set out in the policy programme: to look at current use, to look at future demand and to see how to match them.
Already, early signs show that out there, there is substantial suitable spectrum; and we can get at it just by using it more efficiently, or by re-allocating the unused and the under-used parts.
The inventory is of huge strategic value. It's the right way forward for transparency, certainty and stability, to make allocation more objective, thorough, and joined-up.
And national inventories would not be enough. Only from European level can we most efficiently see the whole picture. And get to grips with the complex and intertwined issues: technical, economic and social.
Here's another place we need to get creative: "shared access" to spectrum.
I mean sharing beyond the current level – whether between public and commercial users, or between commercial licensees in different sectors.
That's a unique chance. On the one hand, for those already holding spectrum but not utilising it to the full: with shared access, they can monetise and benefit from that asset.
On the other hand we have potential new users waiting in the wings - and with shared access we can lower the entry barriers for them.
And technology can help us share. Within the next decade, new technologies could allow an increasing number of users to share spectrum. We need to promote those new developments through an innovation-friendly framework.
And we are preparing a communication on this issue: which will be out soon – the first concrete initiative already coming out of the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme.
Of course you'll all be aware of the results of the 2012 World Radio Conference, especially on the 700 Megahertz band.
The next conference in 2015 will now inevitably allocate this band for mobile services alongside broadcasting.
That shows our international partners are just as committed to satisfying wireless demand as we are here in Europe. But the way it is being done creates a big challenge for spectrum policy in Europe.
Europe should not just be reacting to global developments: we should shape them too. Otherwise they won't take account of our needs, our citizens' needs and our industries.
We can't do that shaping if our positions are fragmented, isolated or incompatible. So we need to speak with one voice in these negotiations. Of course, sometimes, we must tailor to national circumstances. But with a common long-term goal, we can do that without jeopardising Single Market benefits.
I am not here to tell you what is the future of terrestrial broadcasting in Europe, but I do know that -pretty soon- we need to define an EU-level roadmap on international technical negotiations.
So I want us to reach a consensus on the long-term use of the 700 Megahertz band.
And to do that we need to have a discussion on the spectrum needs for broadcasting as a whole.
Let me already share with you some of our thinking.
We need to balance interests from the two sectors, broadcasting and wireless broadband services. But there are tools to make it easier.
Let's look at spectrum-efficient technologies - for both sectors.
Let's look at sharing, not just spectrum, but infrastructure, between the two sectors. Including "passive infrastructure" like sites and masts.
And while we're doing this, let's move away from the old, sterile fight about Broadcasting versus Broadband, and examine more forward-looking scenarios.
Let's see how we can help convergence between the two so that every European has easy access to innovative and interactive content and services.
Let's look at a gradual shift for broadcasting: moving from high-power networks to low-power Single Frequency Networks. Even though I realise that this will involve coordination negotiations between Member States and with neighbouring countries.
And let's ensure that the costs incurred are not carried by the broadcasters. After all, spectrum below 1 Gigahertz is valuable. Mobile operators can hardly expect to get those amazing opportunities for free.
Of course changes in the 700 Megahertz band may also affect others in other ways: from wireless microphones to emergency services, as well as cable and TV receivers. We have to ensure transparency, find ways to mitigate such interference, and, over time, help them migrate.
And we have to ensure that the viewer, the user, does not have to pay a high cost for these changes.
Plus, if there is indeed international pressure to align the 700 Megahertz band, there should be regulatory safeguards so broadcasters can access spectrum below that band.
To make our voice heard, we should set out how we would prefer technical harmonisation of this band to happen. And quickly – to feed the results into the ITU well before 2015.
Any final EU decision concerning the 700 Megahertz band would flow from the inventory, but the technical conditions for those Member States that want to move in their own timeframe should be clear as soon as possible.
But, nonetheless, feeding into the ITU early will help ensure that international outcomes happen on our terms:
Reflecting our European interests.
Ensuring Europe's view on how broadcasting and broadband can co-exist has a chance of prevailing.
Preparing our inventory, without pre-judging it.
And giving us a long-term vision, towards a sustainable EU Single Market.
And any action should take into account developments in technology, consumer behaviour, and of course, platform convergence; as well as involving all stakeholders.
In fact, broad stakeholder involvement is essential if this long-term convergence is to work, which is why I am talking about it with you today.
I know none of this is easy. Whether it's having an objective inventory, sharing spectrum, exploring the 700 Megahertz band, or facilitating convergence in the longer term.
But let's not lose sight of why we're doing this.
The fact is wireless demand is growing exponentially and likely to continue doing so.
People expect to get the most out of their smartphones and tablets. They expect fast broadband on the move.
And they expect to enjoy new online services, however hungry for bandwidth they may be including rich video content that the broadcasters are best place to produce.
If we don't do that for them – if we haven't done our homework to ensure enough spectrum – then they aren't going to be very patient with us.
We'll fail to deliver for our citizens, we'll strangle online innovation, and we'll strangle economic growth too.
But if we do deliver, if we implement our programme and meet our tight deadlines, we can put Europe in the lead of a global wireless revolution.
For me, the choice is simple. Thank you.