European Commission Proposes to Use 700 MHz for Mobile Services

The European Commission has presented a proposal to coordinate the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. It will improve internet access for all Europeans and help develop cross-border applications. Radio frequencies know no borders: spectrum needs to be better coordinated at EU level to avoid interferences and to allow innovative services, such as connected cars or remote health care, to work across the continent. The EU also has to cope with the growing demand for wireless broadband.

By 2020 there will be nearly eight times as much mobile internet traffic as today. As part of its strategy to create a Digital Single Market, it proposes a balanced long-term approach for the use of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) band (470-790 MHz). Currently, this band is mainly used for TV broadcasting. According to the proposal, more spectrum will be made available for mobile services in the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) by 2020. This band is ideal for providing high-quality internet to users, wherever they are, be it a large city, a small distant village or on a highway. Frequencies in the sub-700 MHz area (470-694 MHz) will remain available, as a priority, for audiovisual services. This approach will make sure that Europeans can have access to creative content on tablets and smartphones - an increasing trend - but also through classic TV services. The proposal is also in line with the most recent international agreements on the use of the UHF band including the 700 MHz band.

The proposal comprises two major elements:

  • In the 700 MHz band: a common schedule for making it effectively available for wireless broadband use under harmonised technical conditions, and related coordination measures in support of this transition;
  • In the sub-700 MHz band: long-term priority for the distribution of audiovisual media services to the general public, along with a flexible approach for spectrum use to cater for different levels of digital terrestrial television (DTT) uptake in Member States.

This proposal will make it easier and will reduce costs to develop innovative devices and services across the EU: no need to switch between different bands anymore and to adapt to divergent national requirements.

The Commission proposes that the 700 MHz band should be assigned to wireless broadband by 30 June 2020 at the latest in all EU countries. This will be in line with the deployment of 5G, foreseen as from 2020. To meet this deadline, Member States will need to adopt and make public their national plans for network coverage and for releasing this band by 30 June 2017. They will need also to conclude cross-border coordination agreements by the end of 2017. Such plans will smooth the transition and ensure good network coverage that will help to bridge the digital divide and create the necessary coverage conditions for connected vehicles or remote health care.

Two Member States (France, Germany) have already authorised the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services. Further Member States (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, UK) have outlined plans to repurpose the 700 MHz band in the next few years.

The Commission counts on the swift adoption of this proposal by the European Parliament and Member States in order to ensure a predictable and timely transition.

The ultra-high frequency (UHF) band comprises the range 470-790 MHz and is currently used for digital terrestrial television and for wireless microphones in programme making and at special events. Europe is witnessing significant growth in the demand for wireless broadband services mainly driven by video consumption on the move. Increasing mobile data traffic puts pressure on existing networks' capacity and on demand for additional spectrum. Today's proposal provides more spectrum for broadband in the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz). At the same time, it aims at preserving the European audiovisual model, which offers free-to-view public interest broadcasting and requires sustainable spectrum resources in the sub-700 MHz band (470-694 MHz).

In 2014, the Commission tasked former Commissioner Pascal Lamy to chair a High Level Group consisting of mobile, broadcasting and media sector representatives to find a common position on the UHF band's future use. The Chairman's report recommended repurposing the 700 MHz band for wireless broadband while sustaining the European audiovisual model through safeguards to terrestrial broadcasting for spectrum access to the sub-700 MHz frequency band.

The respondents to the subsequent public consultation expressed support for coordinated EU action. Member States' representatives within the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) adopted an Opinion, which also supports the provision of wireless broadband in the 700 MHz frequency band via a coordinated EU approach; it recommends the adoption of harmonised technical conditions and a common deadline for effective use of the band as well as ensuring the long-term use of the sub-700 MHz frequency band for audiovisual distribution, including its availability for digital terrestrial television (DTT) .

Following the outcomes of the EU-level stakeholder process and international (ITU) agreements, the Commission’s approach on the long-term use of the UHF band is designed to foster the Digital Single Market and to ensure efficient management of this valuable radio spectrum, reflecting its social, cultural and economic value.