New plans to use 1.4GHz could to solve EU's spectrum crunch

Harmonization of spectrum use at EU-level is essential

The use of the 1.4GHz band for a supplemental mobile downlink could solve Europe's spectrum-crunch problem, according to a new report presented Wednesday.

As more and more users go mobile, radio spectrum is an increasingly precious resource in the European Union. However, finite spectrum availability means that new ways of allocating and using the spectrum must be found.

"It is increasingly important that we find a solution to ease the spectrum crunch, as around three-quarters of mobile broadband traffic last year was estimated to be multimedia -- and this will only grow. The 1.4GHz band is the ideal solution, not just to help address the spectrum crunch, but as an important step forward in achieving the E.U.'s Digital Agenda target of providing 30M bps access to all European citizens by 2020," said Phillipa Marks, director at Plum Consulting.

Currently, 10 million European households, particularly in less densely populated areas, have no access to broadband. "It's a cornerstone of our Radio Spectrum Policy Program to facilitate wireless broadband access by making available radio spectrum in all member states, quickly, and under conditions that are conducive to consumer welfare," said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

"In developing its digital sector, Europe is taking part in a global game. And we are at risk of being outclassed by the other players -- who are already engaging in major spectrum initiatives. To the West, we know the importance of wireless in President Obama's broadband plan. We also see an acceleration of developments to our East. We are at risk of being squeezed from both sides," said Kroes.

The so-called 'digital dividend' 800MHz band made available by the move of terrestrial television from analogue to digital is just one band that has been made available, but more capacity is still needed and this is where 1.4GHz may help.

Almost all spectrum allocations for 3G and 4G in Europe currently come in paired bands -- one for uploads and one for downloads. However there is up to eight times more data being downloaded than is being uploaded in mobile networks. And this imbalance will only grow as rich mobile content, such as videos, apps and ebooks, is increasingly made available. Using the 1.4GHz band as a supplementary download band in addition to the paired bands would dramatically ease capacity according to the Plum Consulting report.

The report, presented at the 6th Annual European Spectrum Management Conference in Brussels, estimated that the use of 1.4GHz could generate as much as €54 billion (US$77.97 billion) over a 10-year period. "And the good thing is that we are not simply taking spectrum away from one user to give it to another. Rather, we ensure that the existing spectrum can be used more intensely," said Kroes.

"The 1.4GHz band can be the perfect complement to a mobile operator's existing frequency assets. A supplemental downlink band, combining extended bandwidth and favorable coverage properties, will be a precious resource in the near future, given the significant rise of data traffic on mobile broadband networks," said Lasse Wieweg, director, government and industry relations at Ericsson.

The use of 1.4GHz for downloading has only recently become possible, through developments in technology. The band is currently allocated for use by digital audio broadcasting in most European countries -- part for terrestrial networks and part for satellite networks, however the satellite part of the band is largely unused and could be freed up to act as a supplementary downloading band.

In May the European Parliament voted in favor of harmonization of the 1.4GHz band for wireless broadband services. Meanwhile the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) set up a team to examine which future uses of the 1.4GHz band would be the most beneficial for Europe.

The European Commission is also having a review. "We need to have a serious European inventory of spectrum use and review of efficiency. Our main concern is to preserve the 'E.U. dynamic' of the proposed review. We cannot rely only on individual member states' self-assessments of efficient use," concluded Kroes.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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