Less than half of European countries meet EU's 4G spectrum-reuse deadline

Only 11 countries have freed up the 800MHz spectrum band for reuse by 4G, despite promising it would be ready by the start of this year.

The European Commission has taken several EU countries to task over their failure to free up spectrum for 4G.

In 2010, European Union member states agreed to make sure that the 800MHz spectrum band was cleared and ready for use in time to be auctioned off by 1 January this year. The spectrum, which is typically used by analogue TV signals, is often freed up when countries move to digital TV and resused for 4G mobile services.

Many member states managed to get the 800MHz vacated, but 14 failed to meet the deadline.

Of those 14, the EC has granted nine a postponement: Lithuania, Spain, Austria, Finland, Hungary, which have all promised to free up the spectrum by the end of this year; and Poland, Romania, Malta, and Cyprus, which will make it available for reuse during 2014.

Slovakia and Slovenia asked for a postponement but weren't granted one, with the former hoping to clear the 800MHz band this year, and the latter next year. Belgium and Estonia were also late with their spectrum clearing, but haven't asked for a postponement, and will have the band freed during 2013. Latvia expects the process to be completed during 2015.

Bulgaria will be the latest to make 800MHz available for reuse: it currently uses the spectrum for military purposes and said it may take until 2017 before it can be put at mobile operators' disposal.

The EC's digital chief, Neelie Kroes, put the boot into the latecomers.

"We have agreed to temporary and limited 800MHz derogations for nine countries. This is a pragmatic and final concession. Every delay in releasing spectrum hurts our economy and frustrates citizens. That is why spectrum reform will be a centrepiece of the commission's September proposal for a telecoms single market ," she said in a statement.

Only 11 countries managed to meet the January deadline: Denmark, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, Luxembourg, Portugal, the UK, and Croatia.