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EC unveils strategy for spectrum liberalisation

Industry given more proactive role

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Improved management of Europe's airwaves could boost electronic communications industry revenues by billions of euros per year, according to Brussels.

European Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding unveiled her strategy for radio spectrum use last week and called for the opening up of certain spectrum ranges to new services.

Reding's sweetener to the telecommunications and other wireless industries who currently use various electromagnetic frequency bands was a financial projection that suggests "market-based spectrum management" could garner these industries an increase of up to €9bn per year on the €240bn-€260bn they are estimated to have raked in throughout 2006.

"Europe must fully exploit the potential use of certain spectrum bands by new wireless products and services, so as to encourage market development," said Reding. "We seek to provide new opportunities for industry through less restrictive regulatory conditions that strengthen competition and increase consumer choice. However, this is a gradual process which will not happen overnight."

The European Commission's document Rapid access to spectrum for wireless electronic communications services through more flexibility identifies several spectrum bands which Brussels feels relate to certain regulatory restrictions that need urgent investigation.

Opening up frequency bands reserved for mobile phone communications, such as those for 3G mobile services, is on Commissioner Reding's to-do list, and this approach would fall under existing telecom rules. A statement from the commission also alludes to opening up spectrum currently earmarked for broadcasters as digital services means this sector is using its spectrum allocation more efficiently and a "digital dividend" has freed up some of their bandwidth.

In terms of physical properties, European radio spectrum is divided into bands (or ranges of frequencies) and different applications use different bands. Terrestrial TV is roughly between 400MHz and 800MHz, mobile phones use the 900MHz, 1,800MHz and 2,000MHz frequencies, cordless phones are just below 1900MHz, Wi-Fi hotspots operate at 2.4GHz or 5GHz, and satellite communications often have much higher frequencies.

Problems arise when new products enter the market and the frequency they use "spills" into other bands which can affect consumer usage - feedback or weird echoes on a mobile phone call being common examples.

Reding is proposing that spectrum rights holders determine for themselves how they will use their allocations, which requires industry to assume a more pro-active role. Companies and industry groups will therefore have greater responsibilities for avoiding radio interference and co-ordinating with other groups in converging markets. It is unclear at this early stage how the various national spectrum regulators, such as ComReg in Ireland, feel about this approach.

It is understood that the rise in converged triple play packages of telephone, broadband, and TV bundles is fuelling the commission's strategy.

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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