Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Call to harmonise mobile airwaves

mobile phone
Digital switchover could pave the way for better mobile broadband

The EU has urged its members to use the same part of the airwaves for mobile broadband to help achieve its target of 100% broadband coverage by 2013.

The spectrum will become available as members switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, it said.

Using the same part of the spectrum would make it easier for devices to work "across borders" and allow consumers to use "roaming" services.

A similar plan allowed the emergence of GSM mobile phones in the 1990s.

The EU believes using the common frequency would be a particular boon for unconnected rural areas because it travels over long distances.

Up to 30% of the EU's rural population lacks high-speed internet access, it said.

Net harmony

The new proposal focuses on the 790-862 MHz sub-band of the radio spectrum, part of the so-called "digital dividend" freed up by the digital switchover.

The EU is keen to make sure that all of its its members agree common technical standards for its use.

Switchover logo

It is worried that if this is not agreed, different member states may allocate different uses to the spectrum which may interfere with one another.

"Radio spectrum knows no borders," it said.

The 790-862 MHz sub-band is particularly attractive for mobile broadband because it can easily penetrate buildings.

It could be used for "3G and 4G mobile phone services that allow video streaming, full web browsing and fast downloads on a mobile handset," the commission said.

This would allow it to achieve its target of "high-speed broadband coverage of 100% of the EU population by the end of 2013".

To speed up the process, the European Union recommends that its member states should complete switchover by 2012, the current deadline in the UK.

British broadcasting watchdog Ofcom said it welcomed the recommendations and would study them with the government.

"The spectrum could deliver benefits such as mobile broadband or any other suitable services to EU citizens," said a spokesperson.

The UK intends to hold an open auction for many of the frequencies freed up by the switchover, although no date has been set for the sale.

Various groups are interested in the freed-up airwaves, including broadcasters who want to use parts of it for high-definition services.

'Common plan'

The EU's plans also detail other "strategic objectives" for how to take advantage of the digital divided.

These include adopting a common European position for negotiations between neighbouring countries on how to use parts of the spectrum and agreeing targets for technologies that can use the frequencies.

The EU forecasts that if members can agree common standards for the frequencies, the European economy could receive a boost of up to 50 billion euros (£45bn).

"The digital dividend is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make 'broadband for all' a reality all over Europe and boost some of the most innovative sectors of our economy," said Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for information society and media.

"Europe will only make the most of the digital dividend if we work together on a common plan."

Radio spectrum graphic



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