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EU in 4G mobile 'digital dividend' divvy-up proposal

800MHz band which used to carry telly is good for range

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The EU Council of Ministers has thrashed out a proposal for harmonising the 800MHz band for telephony services across Europe, potentially allowing for 4G roaming in 2013.

The deal has been agreed between ministers and the MEPs making up the Industry Research and Energy Committee; it now needs to be voted through by the full committee membership, and approved by the parliament, but as it stands it will see EU members obliged to clear a space at 800MHz before 1 January, 2013.

Roaming across Europe should be possible by then, anyway, at the 2.6GHz band, which has been recognised for 4G use around the world. But the 800MHz spectrum, the "digital dividend" bands made vacant by the move to more-efficient digital television broadcasting, offers much better range so is more suited to providing coverage in rural areas.

Manufacturers making handsets will obviously include 2.6GHz connectivity, but this decision should encourage them to support 800MHz too and push the rest of the world to turn their analogue TV channels into digital telephony too.

There are currently 41 bands associated with LTE (4G) telephone, which today's technology can't possibly squeeze into a single handset. That compares to the pair of bands being used for 3G (2.1GHz and, recently, 900MHz, with 1.8GHz to come soon) and the quartet of 2G bands most mobile handsets are required to support. LTE will have to settle into a handful of bands, with the existing 3G bands plus 2.6GHz being the obvious starting point. 800MHz will be the first addition.

But harmonisation also makes the bands much more valuable, so companies that have already bought 800MHz bands across Europe will be pleased to see the band getting endorsed.

In the UK we've not had our auction yet, and this harmonisation should be wrapped up by the time we do, so operators will have to pay the proper value for the harmonised bands, assuming the EU countries can agree to create them. ®

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