Mobile internet is set to hit dizzying speeds after MEPs approved today a proposal to free up radio frequencies for their use. Under the plan member states will be required to open up more frequencies for high-speed mobile internet by 2013 to satisfy growing demand for wireless data.
Swedish Christian Democrat Gunnar Hökmark, who was responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament, commented: “We have ensured that sufficient amounts of spectrum both for coverage and capacity are made accessible in the EU to achieve the fastest mobile broadband worldwide." The MEP said the initiative could also prove to be a boon to European companies. “By this decision on radio spectrum policy we are taking the necessary steps in order to regain a European global leadership regarding mobile telecoms, with all the opportunities for European telecoms industry as well as for new services, new jobs and new growth.”
Many devices in our daily lives make use of radio waves, such as mobile phones, remote controls and satellite navigation. They operate within a range of frequencies lying between 9 kHz and 300 GHz which is called radio spectrum. However, it is a scarce resource that can accommodate only a limited number of users. This limitation requires careful planning and management of radio spectrum to avoid interference.
Today MEPs approved the first radio spectrum policy programme (RSPP) which will help to co-ordinate the use of spectrum for new services and technologies, such as “fourth generation” (4G) wireless networks (e.g., LTE and Wimax) that can reach up to 100 Mbps download speeds. According to the programme, member states will have to authorise the use of the 800 MHz band for wireless broadband by 1 January 2013
Currently, the 800 MHz band is used to broadcast analogue TV channels in most member states, but will be freed by the end of 2012 when all TV sets will be switched to digital. This so-called digital dividend will be assigned to superfast mobile internet, aiming to reduce data traffic pressure (due to growing number of smart-phones and desire for data-heavy services, such as high-quality video streaming) on currently used “third generation” networks, to contribute to bringing fast broadband connections to people in remote areas and to give a new impetus to wireless internet services across Europe.
The 800 MHz spectrum band is more useful for 4G wireless services than frequencies above 1 GHz. This band is better at penetrating buildings and provides superior indoor reception and travels longer distances without losing strength. This is why it is cheaper to build a network around it using fewer masts.
Although the management of radio frequencies remains a national responsibility, the EU has played an important role by coordinating policy and setting standards, especially in mobile communications. Radio spectrum coordination at EU level was essential in the success of the European GSM standard for mobile phones, which today is used by more than two billion people around the world.
Paris, November 9th, 2011 — In discussions on the future of wireless communications policies, the EU Parliament is giving in to Member States by accepting a watered-down version1 of the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme. Last Spring, the Parliament had made very constructive proposals in favour of open spectrum policies, calling2 for citizen-controlled wireless communications. Sadly, the first major effort to harmonise spectrum policy in Europe is being held back by EU governments' conservatism and the Parliament's surrender.
On Thursday3, the EU Parliament's Industry committee (ITRE) is expected to finalise debates on the first European Radio Spectrum Policy Programme4, by accepting national governments' bad amendments5 to the text. Member States are refusing any binding EU-wide policy to free up radio waves and encourage citizen uses of the spectrum.6 By doing so, they are holding back real competition, intense innovation, and enhanced wireless access to the Internet. The obvious beneficiaries of such government control over this crucial public resource are dominant telecom operators, who will be able to consolidate their control on airwaves.
The Parliament entered negotiations with a strong call in favour of opening up spectrum to innovators and entrepreneurs. In the Spring, MEPs had adopted7 important amendments calling the Commission and Member States to authorise the creation of “super Wi-Fi” networks by giving unlicensed access to spectrum8, in particular in so-called “white spaces” (bands of frequencies left unused by broadcasters9). This would have allowed for more affordable and open wireless Internet access, which is currently undermined by the harmful restrictions imposed by telecom operators10.
“As the European Council proposed a bad compromise, the Parliament didn't fight and gave in11, renouncing to defend citizens' interest. Just as the United States moves closer to establishing a comprehensive framework for open wireless communications12, the EU will be lagging behind because of the Parliament's lack of political courage and our governments' conservatism. The EU is missing an opportunity to foster the development of a decentralised wireless Internet, boost innovation and help bridge the digital divide, and instead plays into the hands of dominant telecom operators who attempt to control wireless communications.”, said Félix Tréguer, policy and legal analyst for La Quadrature du Net.