Commission hopes 5G will push EU spectrum policy

When 5G, the fifth generation of wireless communications technology, arrives in 2020, engineers expect that it will be able to handle about 1000 times more mobile data than today’s cellular systems. It will become the backbone of the Internet of Things. [General Physics Laboratory/Flickr}]

Upgrading broadband networks to 5G might be another opportunity to move on EU spectrum policy, according to a European Commission official.

“The shift from 4 to 5G gives us an opportunity to regain our global leadership in Europe,” said Carlota Reyners-Fontana, Deputy Head of Unit, Radio Spectrum Policy, at the European Spectrum Management Conference on Tuesday (16 June) in Brussels.

In its digital single market plans announced last month, the European Commission bemoaned some member states’ slow introduction of 4G. The Commission has said that coordinating at EU-level should prevent similar time lags with 5G networks.

Radio spectrum policy has been a sore point in ongoing telecoms reforms. While the executive wants EU policies on spectrum, member states have pushed back against creating European laws.

The telecoms single market legislation that’s now being negotiated initially included radio spectrum, in addition to net neutrality and roaming charges. However, that has since been dropped by member states, who see spectrum as a national security issue.

Kamila Kloc, deputy to Commission VP Andrus Ansip, assured conference attendees on Monday that the Commission’s push for EU spectrum policy wouldn’t aim to change spectrum revenues. Member states profit off of spectrum auction sales to telecoms providers.

Reyners-Fontana acknowledged on Tuesday that auctions are a sensitive issue for member states, but EU coordination of auctions should be considered, she said, since auctions impact the market outcome for broadband.

>>Read: Big telcos take the stage in Germany’s new spectrum auction

According to Reyners-Fontana, the Commission wanted the telecoms single market package to “solve the 5G equation of tomorrow”.

The Commission’s Juncker Plan set out €315 billion to attract private investors in various sectors. Reyners-Fontana says member states have sent in 479 proposals requesting funds specifically for tech and broadband projects.

European policymakers and industry representatives have stressed the need for investment in mobile, where cash flows lag behind Asia and the US.

“Investment is key to making Europe first in mobile,” said Daniel Pataki of GSMA, an association representing mobile operators. “Now we cannot say Europe is a champion in a mobile.”

EU-level spectrum policy would encourage investors to pump money into Europe’s infrastructure, according to the Commission’s digital single market documents.

>>Read: China brings big banks along to talk EU tech investment

The Commission has already signed partnerships with South Korea and Japan on developing 5G networks. Chinese officials and entrepreneurs have called for a similar agreement with China.

Guangyi Lui, chief technology officer for wireless at China Mobile told EURACTIV, “For the mobile industry, we need harmonized global standards.”

Radio frequency spectrum is an essential resource for telecommunication services such as mobile telephones, TV and radio broadcasting, satellite and broadband communications.

The digital dividend - spectrum that is freed as a result of the switchover from analog to digital broadcasting - has been hailed in Brussels as a way to boost growth in a highly profitable digital market and bring broadband to remote areas that may not have terrestrial networks.

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