EU telecoms ministers on Thursday (26 May) endorsed the European Commission’s proposal to liberate the 700 MHz frequency for broadband internet – but postponed to 2022 a final deadline to reorganise the bands.
As consumers’ usage of mobile internet keeps growing exponentially, the importance of maximising the limited radio spectrum has increased in recent years.
In order to prepare the ground for millions of connected devices, from mobiles to refrigerators, the Commission proposed last February to allocate the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) for wireless broadband. TV broadcasters operating in this frequency would be moved to the sub-700 MHz band (470-694 MHz).
Consumers will have to buy new TV sets or adapt their old models, with costs that could amount to €150.
Member states agreed with the executive’s proposal, as the 700 MHz will provide “both the additional capacity and the universal coverage, in particular for the economically challenging rural and remote areas” needed to achieve that all citizens have access to broadband speeds of not less than 30 Mbs/s by 2020, the Council position said.
Commission spokesperson Nathalie Vandystadt said that the institution was “happy” the Council progressed “so quickly” on this dossier.
Belgium was the only country that abstained from the Council’s adopted position. The text will be now discussed with the European Parliament.
Delay in the transition calendar
National governments did, however, water down the Commission’s calendar to reorganise radio spectrum. The EU executive proposed that all member states should announce their national plans for releasing the 700 MHz band, and for network coverage, by June 2017.
Neighbouring states will need to conclude cross-border coordination agreements by the end of that year to ensure proper coverage and no interference in bordering regions.
The executive said this time frame would leave national governments enough time to prepare the transition, as it is expected that the new 5G technologies will start operating by 2020.
But according to the Council’s position, member states may decide “for duly justified reasons, to delay the availability of the band by up to two years”. If that happens, the capitals must inform other countries and the Commission about their plans.
The Council also postponed one year, to June 2018, the obligation to adopt the national roadmaps to complete the transition.
Officials admitted that this delay would represent an issue for the Commission during the negotiation process.
“We are hoping to see a different scenario than we had with the implementation of 800MHz, where certain countries requested longer periods of time to release the band” said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at GSMA, a trade association representing the interests of mobile operators.
He admitted however that “it is only natural that timing may vary slightly.”
But Giusti remained adamant about maintaining 2020 as “an ultimate milestone” in the shift to mobile for the 700MHz band. “Without this commitment, Europe is at risk of falling behind other regions in mobile broadband development,” he warned.