European Commission gets behind spectrum sharing
As part of five-year wireless broadband plan, EC urges regulators to adopt harmonized rules for unlicensed and shared bands
Published: 4 September, 2012
The European Commission, following in the footsteps of the US regulator, wants to create a framework for scarce radio spectrum to be shared by multiple technologies and players. The European Union's executive arm called on regulators within the area to adapt more quickly to technical advances, which improve spectral efficiency and allow wireless technologies to coexist in one band.
It has set out its first list of objectives, as part of the five-year Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, approved by the European Parliament in February. The overarching aim is to harmonize spectrum allocations and rules for mobile broadband, but the EC is keen to look beyond conventional bands and processes to find new sources of frequencies, and to use them more efficiently.
"If we run out of spectrum then mobile networks and broadband won't work. That is unacceptable," said Neelie Kroes, the EC's digital agenda commissioner. "We must maximize this scarce resource by reusing it and creating a single market out of it. Radio spectrum is economic oxygen."
On the Commission's wishlist are unified processes for national regulators to monitor and extend access to license exempt spectrum, with particular interest in the white spaces in the TV bands; as well as consistent regulatory approaches to encourage spectrum sharing, and clear legal certainty for those engaged in such deals. The EC believes there are important examples to follow in the internet service provider space.
In a statement, the body said: "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."
The first concrete milestone of the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme should come at the end of 2012, when all member states are supposed to have authorized the use of key mobile broadband bands - 2.5GHz-2.69GHz, 3.4GHz-3.8GHz and 800MHz, plus the 900MHz and 1.8GHz GSM spectrum - in a harmonized way.
By mid-2013 the Commission, in cooperation with member states, has promised a detailed plan to create an inventory to analyze efficient spectrum use right across the 400MHz to 6GHz range. Over time this will go well beyond the usual bands and include unlicensed options and sharing between carriers, between multiple air interfaces, or between mobile operators and other services like TV.
In a blog post, Kroes gave an update on her vision for the spectrum programme. "Today we launch one of the first initiatives within that programme - a proposal on spectrum sharing," she wrote. "Today's proposal is an essential part of the solution to dealing with the wireless crunch, without interfering with existing rights or downgrading quality of service, but rather by using new technical possibilities to create a secondary market for spectrum rights."
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