Radio days: EC opens spectrum for mobile

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission on Wednesday announced plans free up radio spectrum in a bid to speed up video streaming and downloads on cell phones.

The measures will open radio frequencies that have, until now, been reserved for GSM mobile phones, making them available to other wireless technologies such as high-speed third-generation (3G) mobile data. They are expected to boost the number and choice of wireless services available as well as expand their geographic coverage.

"This proposal is a concrete step towards a more flexible market-driven approach to spectrum management in Europe," EU Media and Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said. "It will increase competition in the use of spectrum bands and enhance the accessibility of European citizens to multimedia services."

Reding said that radio spectrum is a crucial economic resource that had to be properly managed across Europe. "In the EU, we must, therefore, remove regulatory barriers and facilitate the deployment of mobile communications by allowing new technologies to share spectrum with existing ones," she said.

The proposal comes after the GSM Assn., the global trade body for the mobile phone industry, said last month that network costs for the wireless communications industry could be cut by up to 40% over the next five years if the radio bandwidth for new services is expanded. Currently, the 3G network is confined to the 2,100 MHz band, but the EC proposal would make it available on the 900 MHz and 1,800 MHz frequencies that have so far been reserved for GSM.

This means repealing the 1987 legislation that paved the way for the GSM standard. Once the law is repealed, the EC will adopt a decision to allow new technologies to coexist with GSM in the frequencies of 900 MHz and 1800 MHz, while preserving the continued operation of GSM in the EU.

The repeal needs to be cleared by the European Parliament and EU governments, while the proposed decision merely needs to be adopted by the Commission. The Commission said it expects the reforms to be in place by the end of this year.

The GSMA estimates an additional 300 million people across Asia, Europe and Africa would have access to mobile broadband services by 2012 if mobile operators are allowed to use a 900 MHz spectrum for 3G services, because the lower frequency would enable operators to expand their networks more cheaply.

Earlier this year, the Commission published a strategy for radio spectrum that said frequencies not needed by mobile phone operators, or those freed up through the switch to digital broadcasting, should be opened to other businesses. The EC also wants to talk to member states, most of which regulate the distribution of spectrum to businesses, about how that allocation process could be made less restrictive.

Collectively, the industry using radio spectrum earned between €240 billion and €260 billion ($331.4 billion-$359.1 billion) last year, according to commission estimates.
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