Europe details plan to nab 700MHz broadcast spectrum for mobile by 2020

Europe sets out how UHF spectrum in the 470-790 MHz band will be used to support future demand on 4G networks.

The European Commission has outlined its plan to turn over the 700MHz spectrum currently used for radio and TV broadcasting to mobile networks by 2020.

Hoping to avoid Europe becoming a laggard in mobile broadband, the European Commission has outlined its plan to move spectrum used exclusively for free-to-air TV to mobile broadband network operators.

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The proposals, developed during French politician Pascal Lamy's six month "peace making mission" with Europe's mobile network operators and broadcasters, would see the 700MHz band repurposed across Europe for mobile broadband by 2020 — give or take two years.

Europe wants to avoid a piecemeal approach to spectrum allocation for these lower frequency bands and lags the US, China, Korea and Japan in offering both sides a framework for the future use of 700MHz spectrum.

As noted in a report from Lamy, deciding what to do with the spectrum is tricky in Europe, since some nations such as Italy still depend on that spectrum to deliver digital TV, while others including Belgium don't.

Meanwhile, the rise of 4G mobile broadband is expected at some time to require additional capacity in the 700MHz bands and below, although Lamy notes in the report that this band isn't absolutely necessary today, given recent auctions across Europe of 800MHz spectrum for mobile broadband. Still, some nations, including Finland, Germany, and Sweden, have already committed to using the 700MHz band for wireless broadband.

While Lamy and Europe's digital agenda chief Neelie Kroes today announced the 700MHz band should transition to mobile broadband networks by 2020, broadcasters wanted a longer timespan to use the spectrum. As a result, Lamy noted today, the deadline would "plus or minus two years" from 2020.

As well as the 2020 deadline, Lamy's framework offers another two loose deadlines for spectrum transition to occur, which include even looser deadlines for frequencies below 700MHz.

Under the plan, broadcasters would have exclusive rights to 470-794MHz band until 2030. However, the EU plans to review this arrangement in 2025, pending technological and market developments.

"So we will free the upper part of the band and keep until 2030 the lower part of the band for broadcasters," said Lamy. "This implies that the EU is accepting the lower part of the band not being shared between broadcasters and mobile broadband providers."

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