The Council of the European Union (EU) yesterday (26 May 2016) adopted its official position on a draft decision to make the 694MHz-790MHz (700MHz) frequency band available across Europe by mid-2020 to boost mobile broadband service coverage, whilst prioritising the 470MHz-694MHz band for broadcasting until at least 2030. In a press release Henk Kamp, the Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs, was quoted as saying: ‘With the opening of the 700MHz band for mobile broadband an important step towards the availability of broadband for everybody in the EU has been taken. Fast internet is not only important for economic development in the EU, but also for the daily life of its citizens.’
According to the Council position, all 28 EU countries must reassign the 700MHz band to wireless broadband services under harmonised technical conditions by 30 June 2020. If they are unable to do this they may decide, for duly justified reasons, to delay the availability of the band by up to two years. Reasons for such a delay could include for instance unresolved harmful interferences or cross-border coordination issues. Member states must adopt a ‘national roadmap’ by 30 June 2018, setting out how they will implement the decision. These roadmaps will be public.
The Council position stipulates that member states must ensure the availability of the 470MHz-694MHz band for digital TV and wireless microphones at least until 2030, based on national needs, to give the audiovisual sector long-term regulatory predictability as regards the availability of sufficient spectrum. Member states would be allowed to use this range for other purposes, including mobile internet services, under certain conditions. The 470MHz-790MHz range is currently widely used for digital TV and wireless microphones (e.g. in theatres, concerts and sporting events), but the high speeds and penetration provided by the 700MHz band make it ideal for mobile internet services. The coordinated use of the frequency is also aimed at promoting 4G take-up, and is expected to make it easier to roll out 5G (from around 2020).
The general approach as stated will be the Council’s position for negotiations with the European Parliament. The Parliament has not adopted its position yet. Both institutions must agree on the text before it can become law.
Major European markets have already moved ahead with 700MHz mobile broadband auctions: Germany sold off 700MHz licences in May 2015, whilst France followed suit in November that year (from 6 April 2016 French cellcos were authorised to provide services in the 700MHz band in a total of 2,374 towns). Sweden has scheduled its 700MHz auction for late-2016, whilst UK regulator Ofcom has laid out proposals to make spectrum in the 700MHz band available for mobile broadband ‘as soon as practicably possible’ and echoed the EU’s 2020 deadline for service availability.