Commissioners call for EU unity on roaming, spectrum


Vice-President Andrus Ansip [Flickr/Algimantas Balezentis/BDF]

This article is part of our special report Mobile World Congress.

SPECIAL REPORT / European Commissioners responsible for digital affairs are jointly appealing to member states to stop resisting efforts to end surcharges for mobile roaming and spectrum harmonisation.

“It does concern me that we may end up with a lack of provisions for spectrum and not enough ambition on roaming and net neutrality,” Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip yesterday (2 March) told delegates at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (see background).

Ansip’s comments will be reflected in a speech today by Günther Oettinger, the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, in a speech laying out the EU’s vision for 5G telecommunications development.

The Estonian politician said a poor result on roaming and spectrum “would not reflect the significance, ambition and urgency that EU heads of state gave to the single European telecoms market in October 2013”.

The European Parliament voted last year to end roaming fees within the EU by the end of 2015, but the legislation still needs approval by member states in the EU Council.

Member states are squabbling, because their relative charging rates vary greatly.

For example, eastern European countries with cheaper charges for local calls fear operators will increase prices for such domestic calls unless these operators see a corresponding reduction in the tariffs they pay other operators when their customers travel abroad.

The timing is sensitive, because member states are finalising their positions before commencing trilogues with the European Parliament next week.

On spectrum, Ansip said “the more that this natural resource is divided, the less efficient it is, that is the situation we have today”.

Coordination of European spectrum is vital for the future Telecom Single Market, Ansip said, and also for the development of 5G mobile communications.

Read>> Europe divided on spectrum allotment

Ansip is set to resent a landmark European Digital Single Market strategy in May.

“We cannot make much progress in building the Digital Single Market without progress on telecoms, and making sure that high-quality connectivity becomes more widely available in all corners of Europe,” Ansip told delegates.

Meanwhile, Ansip’s concerns are set to be reflected in a speech by Günther Oettinger setting out the EU’s vision for 5G technology, set to dominate the hyper-connected world.

“There can be no successful 5G deployment in Europe without enhanced coordination of spectrum assignments between Member States,” Oettinger will warn.

“We must build together a European approach in the international spectrum debates with other global actors,” he will tell a keynote session on ‘The Path to 5G’ in Barcelona.

The speeches by two commissioners represent part of a show of force by the EU executive at the Barcelona showcase technology conference, expected to see 90,000 visitors this year, and is the first time that the Commission has exhibited formally at the site.

The Mobile World Congress, held in the Catalan capital Barcelona, is the world's largest telecoms convention and is often used by companies in the sector to launch new products and announce new services.

This year 90,000 visitors are expected.

Subscribe to our newsletters