Russia to compete with EU on spectrum use


EU countries bordering Russia will not meet ambitious deadlines set by the European Commission to free up new radio spectrum for wireless broadband because they will have to compete with large-scale Russian military deployment, reveal industry sources.  

In spite of ambitious targets being set by the EU to speed up the bloc's take up of wireless broadband, many countries will struggle to meet a deadline to free up new spectrum to carry the services.

Industry sources reveal that countries bordering Russia, such as Poland and the Baltic states, have cast doubt on the EU's 2013 deadline for freeing up the 800 MHZ band previously used by terrestrial television because they fear technical interference from Russia's military services.

Interference, which can range from a crackling noise to services being unavailable, has been tested within the EU territory but there are no known tests with third countries, like Russia.

"In many countries this will be very difficult and in some countries even impossible," Nicola Frank of the European Broadcasters Union told EURACTIV.

In a vote today, the European Parliament's committee for industry and trade (ITRE) endorsed the 2013 deadline to accommodate increasing demand for wireless broadband but also supported exceptions for countries that can prove they cannot meet the deadline for "historical reasons".

Though the reference to history does not reveal much, a parliamentary source reveals this was written into the text to accommodate difficulties in Russia's neighbouring EU countries.

These countries would need to apply to the European Commission to extend the deadline until 2015, a timeframe already recommended by the ITU, the UN agency for telecommunications.  

According to an industry source who wished to remain anonymous, the telcoms industry has been aware of the fact that there may be exceptions for some countries in spite of a campaign in favour of the 2013 deadline.

In its vote, the ITRE committee today adopted a report written by Swedish MEP Gunnar Hökmark which mirrors ambitions set out by the European Commission that countries should be ready to sell off space on the valuable 800 MHz band of radio frequency used by terrestrial broadcasters to wireless broadband operators by 1 January 2013, with an extension to 2015 for some countries.

The allocation of spectrum has been marked by intense debate between member states on which services should be prioritised and how countries can conduct spectrum auctions around the same time to make sure the roll out does not create an uneven playing field.

Broadcasters argue the main issue is not how spectrum is doled out, but when, and that many countries, especially in the east, will not meet the 2013 deadline.

In Albania, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia and Belgium's French-speaking south, the analogue switch off has not even begun, according to statistics from the European Observatory. 

In Spain, digital terrestrial television penetration has reached 81%, in France 78%, in the UK 72% and in Italy 65%, according to the observatory's figures. Across the EU, 57% of EU households receive TV over terrestrial networks (analogue and digital).

Radio frequency spectrum is a limited part of the electromagnetic spectrum as a whole, but it is extremely important due to its capacity to carry codified messages. This makes it an essential resource for telecommunication services such as mobile telephones, TV and radio broadcasting, satellite and broadband communications.

On 13 November 2008, the European Commission presented its proposal for renewed use of radio spectrum to take advantage of the digitisation of television, foreseen in the EU by 2012. 

In November 2009, the European Parliament and the Council agreed to modify EU telecoms rules and called on the Commission to propose a multi-annual Radio Spectrum Policy Programme. The general objective of the programme, defined in revised EU telecoms rules adopted last year (MEMO/09/513), is to "set out the policy orientations and objectives for the strategic planning and harmonisation of the use of radio spectrum".

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