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Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda
Thinking European, and winning the wireless race
Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) Plenary meeting /Brussels
20 February 2013
I am delighted to be here with the real spectrum experts. Spectrum matters. Already it supports over a quarter of a trillion euros of economic activity a year; and ever-growing in its uses.
It's a valuable asset. And you are best placed to ensure we use it as well as possible.
Once, just a few years ago, Europe led the world in wireless. Driving global developments in networks and services. We took steps towards a single telecoms market for 500 million people. We allocated harmonised bands across Europe, we created a single mobile standard used worldwide.
But in the latest technologies we are falling behind. With ten times South Korea's population, we actually have fewer 4G subscriptions.
Increasingly, mobile phone manufacturers are not European: as these days, 8 out of the top 10 handset makers are from elsewhere.
And some of those devices, including the latest iPhone, do not support important EU spectrum bands.
Our success or failure in wireless does not happen by chance: it depends on the policy decisions we take. Fragmented spectrum availability means a fragmented market. Yet the digital dividend spectrum – offering cheap network roll-out and wide coverage – is currently only being used in just a few Member States. And, on average, national governments have only awarded 65% of the spectrum we harmonised in the EU. All together that means missed opportunities for millions of citizens. Isn't that crazy?
The right policy decisions matter to our future. Mobile traffic is predicted to grow at over 60% per year, and our networks are straining. Not providing that capacity means higher prices and less choice for users, less revenue opportunities for businesses, and a European economy that stutters on the world stage.
We need broadband for all, and to roll out faster technologies. We need to benefit from new services, from the cloud to the internet of things. We need to boost our economy, and provide new opportunities. In all these things, wireless plays a central role: and, in all these things, a genuine Single Market can make it easier to deliver.
You may have seen the recent outcome on the EU Budget. The Connecting Europe Facility would have been a major step towards our broadband goals. It would leverage tens of billions of euros in investment, and connect tens of millions of homes. This investment in high speed broadband would pay back for a competitive economy – and pay back the taxpayer, with interest. Skipping that massive opportunity is a big mistake: we can't afford that, not these days.
But, whatever the eventual outcome of that negotiation, I remain determined to deliver broadband for all – and determined to use every tool available to do so.
We have already taken action. We have a target to find 1200 Megahertz of harmonised spectrum for wireless broadband. And we have set out ways to encourage shared use of spectrum.
I am very glad that the RSPG is helping and advising us in many of these areas, like a common framework for Licensed Shared Access, new spectrum opportunities for wireless broadband, and the proposed spectrum inventory.
But we need to go further. We need an action plan for wireless communications, to boost Europe's ecosystem, and remove the barriers that stand in our way. And I will be putting forward that action plan soon.
And here is one opportunity that we must seize as a priority.
The 700 Megahertz band offers a huge potential: for the Single Market, and worldwide.
And last year we launched this discussion with you. Let me focus today on our next steps.
As you know, the 2012 World Radiocommunications Conference decided to have both mobile and broadcasting services co-allocated in the 700 Megahertz band by 2015.
I want to find a sustainable long-term solution for this band – that is my commitment. There is huge potential in international harmonisation. So I want to avoid a fragmented approach, balance the interests of incumbent and new users, and deliver the greatest possible benefits for Europe, economically and socially.
But how do we do that? The challenge is to act fast internationally – while, at home, having a structured policy process, to determine our objectives and the way ahead. Here are two of the steps along the way.
First, we have just approved a mandate to ask CEPT to develop the technical conditions for wireless broadband in this band.
To serve our spectrum objectives, and prepare the ground ahead of the ITU in 2015.
This mandate is for technical work. And it operates on the assumption, as seems likely, that most of the world will start to take up the 700 Megahertz band for mobile broadband.
But we do not pre-judge the outcome of the EU political process.
So going further, we will need to structure the political debate.
This brings me to my second point. The European Commission needs a dialogue with the mobile and broadcasting industries, complementing that with the RSPG. And to have views from these important stakeholders too, I plan to set up a High-Level Group from industry, dealing with both political and technical aspects.
Because there is a broader context. Growing convergence of services, trends in consumer demand, platform competition. We need to take these into account when deciding on the 700 Megahertz band, or considering the future of terrestrial platforms. This is not a trivial task: it deserves our full attention.
Our objective is to reach a political agreement, and give regulatory certainty. To consider the need for re-structuring sectors, migration, and managing broadcasting spectrum – before mobile deployments in the 700 Megahertz band may take place.
How should we do that? We should be strategic. We should act with an eye to tomorrow's opportunities – not yesterday's powers. And we should be truly European: to deliver the single market jackpot here, and be heard by international partners abroad.
I hope I can count on the support of the RSPG in achieving that. The alternative is to miss out on a goldmine of opportunity. And the sooner we do it, the sooner all the sectors involved can start planning for the future.
I don't see this as a win-lose exercise. And nor do I listen to those who argue that the Internet will end broadcasting. Not only does the consumer need both industries: but they both need each other, and increasingly overlap. The Internet gives a new platform, a new chance for broadcasters to offer higher-quality services – on-demand and interactive. While watching that online content is an increasingly significant driver of broadband demand: including wireless. These are sectors whose future lies together. We need to understand how they will evolve, understand how much spectrum they will need, and find the right way forward.
So we should be prepared for a strategic shift in thinking. For those two sectors, as well as other incumbent spectrum users.
I realise that there are differences between Member States: including for how fast they will want to move. But with a common vision, we can be sure to all reach the same destination. I know that stakeholders from many sectors, including broadcasting, see this imperative - and are ready to work together.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have to reinforce Europe's wireless ecosystem. With a concrete and effective action plan to help the wireless communications market. With a strong EU voice in international negotiations to deliver Europe's interests. And with a policy that uses our single market, breaking down the barriers to new wireless networks and services.
This is not just of interest to technical experts: it matters to everyone. Europeans are buying the latest wireless gadgets; businesses and whole industries benefit from the rich innovative services they support; and that innovation is boosting our whole economy.
But so many of those services, that innovation, those advantages, rely on spectrum.
There is tough global competition. Other parts of the world are racing ahead, and giving themselves the wireless advantage.
If we wait, it will be too late. So let's not slam on the brakes. Let's not strangle tomorrow's growth before it starts. Let's not wait until we see our global competitiveness ebbing away.
Let's do our jobs – and plan now to safeguard our digital future.