EU to Hold Meeting on Radio Spectrum Future

The European Commission and the European Parliament will have a public consultation on March 22 and March 23 about Europe's future use of radio spectrum, which thanks to the explosive growth of mobile broadband, has become a hot commodity.

Participants at the Spectrum Summit will be welcomed by newly appointed Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, and the list of speakers include Telefónica CTO Vicente San Miguel Maza and Richard Feasey, public policy director at Vodafone. The meeting will be open for public input, according to a statement.

One of the most important topics will be the re-use of old analog TV frequencies for mobile broadband, according to Swedish Member of the European Parliament Gunnar Hökmark, who will participate. How this spectrum is handled is the most strategic question for the telecommunications sector and IT in general, because it would let operators offer broadband in rural areas, Hökmark said.

Frequencies below 1GHz, also called the digital dividend spectrum, can be used to cover great distances, and is therefore well suited to offer broadband in rural areas, according to the GSM Association.

"There is no doubt that mobile broadband is the most cost-effective way of providing broadband connectivity to rural areas," said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms and Media.

Europe has lost its lead in mobility to North America and Asia, but if Europe and the European Commission take a strong position on mobile broadband for rural areas it could recapture some of that leadership, Newman said.

The long range of lower frequencies is a boon for subscribers in rural areas. But countries need to act in unison because it won't work if one country continues to broadcast TV signals with big towers and an operator in a neighboring country starts offering mobile broadband in the same spectrum, according to Mats Nilsson, vice president and head of public affairs at Ericsson.

The European Commission has already recommended that member countries use 790MHz to 862MHz for mobile broadband services, according to Nilsson. It hasn't specified when broadcast services will have to be turned off, which could lead to issues with interference. But that is better than nothing, Nilsson said.

The need for even more spectrum will also be raised at the meeting, according to Nilsson.

Those who cannot attend the Spectrum Summit can make their voices heard by sending comments to infso-b4@ec.europa.eu before April 9, with a reference to the "Public Consultation Radio Spectrum Policy Programme."

All views will be taken into account when the Commission drafts a new radio spectrum policy program, which will be presented to the European Parliament and the Council by June or July, according to Jonathan Todd, a spokesman for Kroes.

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