Let carriers use 700MHz for European wireless broadband from 2020, report recommends

A high-level European Union report has recommended forcing broadcasters to stop using 700MHz spectrum by 2020, so the airwaves can be freed up for wireless broadband.

These particular airwaves are great for connectivity – with radio spectrum, the lower the number, the better it is at propagating transmissions over great distances and into buildings. That’s why, over in the U.S., T-Mobile shelled out $2.6 billion for some of Verizon’s 700MHz holdings at the start of this year.

Hoping for harmony

In Europe, 700MHz (really 694-790MHz) is still largely reserved for TV broadcasts and wireless microphones, as is most other UHF spectrum. However, the Monday report by Pascal Lamy, a former trade commissioner and WTO chief, said it should be reserved for wireless broadband by 2020 – give or take two years.

This would allow a more harmonized approach to 700MHz across what is supposed to be a single market. Currently, countries such as Germany, Finland and Sweden are keen to steam ahead with using 700MHz for broadband, but that would lead to fragmentation and make life difficult for device manufacturers.

As a sop to the broadcasters, Lamy recommended that they be able to continue using the UHF spectrum below 700MHz (i.e. 470-694MHz) until 2030. This would mean Europe defending these airwaves for broadcasters when it comes to global discussions, though the Commission said on Monday that “some flexibility could nevertheless be catered for through the development of ‘down link only’ technologies that give priority to primary broadcasting networks.”

Additionally, there would need to be a full review of all UHF spectrum in Europe by 2025, Lamy recommended.

“For too long the broadband and broadcasting communities have been at loggerheads about the use of the UHF spectrum band. There have been many different views and perspectives. On the basis of discussions with the two sectors, I have put forward a single scheme that could provide a way forward for Europe to thrive in the digital century,” Lamy said in a statement.

Timescale issues

The report’s formulation wasn’t exactly harmonious. It was supposed to be the product of a high-level group of industry stakeholders, but it ended up having just Lamy’s name on it – the group couldn’t agree a compromise.

If the Commission goes ahead with Lamy’s recommendations (they’re still waiting on a separate report from the member states) then the broadcasters will lose 30 percent of their spectrum holdings, and will be forced to use more efficient compression and transmission technologies. The Commission reckons this would allow traditional broadcast operations to continue, while providing space for the explosion in demand for mobile data.

Still, the carriers aren’t entirely happy with Lamy’s report. Industry body the GSMA said on Monday that the UHF review should happen in 2020 not 2025, and that broadcasters shouldn’t get their turf defended for so long.

“We are concerned that the report’s recommendations on the sub-700MHz (470-694MHz) band could put Europe at a competitive disadvantage compared to other regions,” GSMA Director General Anne Bouverot said in a statement. “Limiting Europe’s flexibility on the possible co-existence of mobile and digital broadcast services until 2030 will discourage investment in world-leading mobile networks.”