EU wants member countries to free up spectrum for 4G rollout, eyes 2013 deadline

This one's been in the works for a little while now, but the EU has just taken another step toward making 4G coverage a continental reality. Last week, the European Commission, European Parliament and member states of the European Council reached what they're calling an "informal compromise" on a new radio spectrum policy. Under the proposed agreement, member countries would have to free up (read: "auction off") their 800MHz frequency bands for broadband service by January 1, 2013, as part of Parliament's plan to accelerate broadband rollout by using spectrum once devoted to analog TV frequencies. The idea is to allocate 1200MHz to mobile traffic sometime after the year 2013, but before the end of 2015. Government authorities would retain the right to allocate their country's radio frequencies as they see fit, though distribution across ISPs and users falls under the EU's aegis -- which is where the proposed Radio Spectrum Policy Programme comes in. A draft of the deal has already received approval, though a final version must still be ratified by the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee on November 10th, before making its way to Parliament for a full vote.

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Radio spectrum: MEPs reach deal with Council Presidency

A deal on an ambitious EU radio spectrum policy, designed to stimulate mobile broadband use and boost economic growth, was approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday. It was negotiated by Council representatives and Industry, Research and Energy Committee MEPs.

In May 2011, the European Parliament approved plans to speed up the development of mobile broadband for all, using radio spectrum freed up by the switchover from analogue to digital TV.

The allocation of radio frequencies is a matter for national authorities, not the EU, but rules on how to divide up the spectrum among internet providers and users need to be agreed at EU level.

The "Radio Spectrum Policy Programme" is a crucial building block in creating a single digital European market.

800 MHz band to be freed for wireless broadband by 2013

Under the deal, EU countries would have to make the 800 MHz frequency band available for wireless broadband services by 1 January 2013. "This will set up a pan-European telecommunications market where new services can create opportunities and growth for a 500 million consumer market", said rapporteur Gunnar Hökmark (EPP, SE).

At least 1200 MHz for mobile data traffic

At least 1200 MHz should be allocated to mobile data traffic, after 2013 but before 2015, as requested by Parliament. "This means that Europe will be in the forefront of future internet and broadband developments", said Mr Hökmark..

Furthermore, the Commission should assess, no later than 1 January 2015, whether there is a need to harmonize additional spectrum bands in order to manage the exponential growth in wireless data traffic.

The Council also endorsed an amendment by MEPs to widen the scope of an inventory of the existing spectrum between 400 MHz and 6 GHz in order to identify where efficiency could be improved and ensure that the exponential growth in wireless data traffic can be met by future reallocations.

"This week's political agreement on the first Radio Spectrum Policy Programme will pave the way for the EU to take the global lead regarding new services and competitiveness. This will be possible thanks to higher broadband speeds, mobility, coverage and capacity. I am glad that Parliament's ambitious approach has been endorsed by the Member States", concluded Mr Hökmark.

Next steps

The informal compromise, negotiated by Industry, Research and Energy Committee MEPs and the Council of Ministers' Polish Presidency, still needs to be backed by the Industry, Research and Energy Committee on 10 November and later by Parliament as a whole.