It is expected that by 2020 mobile Internet traffic will be nearly eight-times heavier than today, which will undoubtedly lead to greater spectrum requirements. The EC has therefore proposed a coordinated approach to utilizing the 700MHz band for mobile services to meet this demand, along with the allocation of frequencies sub-700MHz for audiovisual media. The proposal will now go through a co-decision procedure between member states andthe European Parliament before it can be formally adopted.
Coordination of the 700MHz band is needed if the EU is to lead on 5G development
Meeting the increasing demand for wireless broadband will require efficient use of scarce resources such as spectrum. Spectrum allocation therefore needs to be coordinated effectively across the EU to reduce the pressure on existing networks’ capacity while avoiding interference and allowing innovative services to work across the continent.
As part of its Digital Single Market strategy, the EC has proposed coordinating the use of the 700MHz band (694–790MHz) for mobile services in all EU countries. This frequency range is ideal for providing high-quality Internet regardless of location; it offers wide coverage and high speeds in even the most rural areas. The EC’s proposal follows plans announced by the ITU in November 2015 to harmonize spectrum globally by assigning the 700MHz band to mobile broadband across region 1 (Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia), having already done so in region 2 (Americas) and region 3 (Asia-Pacific) in 2007.
The band is currently mainly being used for TV broadcasting, but by June 30, 2020 the EC proposes that the 700MHz band instead be made available for mobile use. The frequencies below this range (470–694MHz) will be assigned to audiovisual media and digital terrestrial television to meet consumers’ growing demand for access to creative content and TV services on their mobile devices.
Setting a common deadline across all member states for this transition, as well as the corresponding harmonized technical conditions, will reduce the costs associated with developing cross-border applications such as connected cars by eliminating the need to switch between bands. The deadline also coincides with the initial deployment of 5G, which is expected in 2020. This is an area the EU is working on with China, having signed an agreement in September 2015 to jointly research and standardize 5G technology.
All EU member states will need to outline and adopt their plans for releasing the 700MHz frequencies and their national network coverage strategies by June 30, 2017. Cross-border agreements will also need to be arranged by the end of 2017 to ensure good network coverage. So far, only France and Germany have allocated the 700MHz band to mobile operators, but Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the UK have all outlined plans to do so over the next few years.
The EC has estimated that clearing the 700MHz band by 2020 and upgrading to next-generation terrestrial broadcasting technology could cost between €1.2bn and €4.4bn. A large proportion of this will be end users having to upgrade reception equipment before the end of the normal renewal cycle. The migration is expected to be challenging for broadcasters, which will have to change their infrastructure fairly quickly.
Superfast-Access Policy Tracker: 2015, TE0007-000954 (December 2015)
“Proceeds from the 700MHz auction in France exceed expectations,” TE0007-000961 (November 2015)
Sarah McBride, Analyst, Regulation