Europe has approved the use of 3G services over spectrum currently reserved for 2G. The move should let operators use spectrum they already own to run mobile broadband services over greater distances than are currently possible.
On Monday, the European Commission announced that the practice — known in the industry as 'spectrum refarming' — had been approved by the Council of Ministers.
Under the GSM Directive of 1987, which harmonised spectrum use across Europe so mobile-phone services could take off, part of the 900MHz frequency band was reserved for 2G voice and text services. This band is at a much lower frequency than the current European 3G bands between 1,900MHz and 2,170MHz, giving it superior propagation and building-penetration properties, and making it cheaper to cover a given area, although not a given number of users, from a base station.
"The GSM standard has been a success story for Europe, where it was born," the European telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding said in a statement. "By updating the GSM Directive, the EU has paved the way for a new generation of services and technologies where Europe can be a world leader."
In May, the analyst group Analysys Mason said refarming 2G spectrum for 3G use would make it feasible to extend 3G coverage to rural areas, where rolling out more base stations may be seen by operators as economically unsound.