Have you ever wondered how your smartphone or 3G tablet works, how it manages to communicate wirelessly wherever you travel in Europe?
The answer is radio spectrum. Not the most “visible” part of the digital agenda – but in many ways one of the most significant. Because every kind of wireless communication relies, in one way or the other, on intelligently using the public resource of radio spectrum.
Radio spectrum frequencies have long been used for things like radio and TV broadcasts, digital and analogue; and for scientific, military or civilian purposes.
But new technologies mean a whole lot of new demands on radio spectrum. Spectrum is used for “traditional” mobile phones – calling and texting. Plus to transmit data: it’s the key that unlocks your tablet or smartphone – so you can check emails, access the wealth of knowledge online, or catch up with your favourite TV programme while waiting for the bus. While for others, solutions based on radio spectrum are the only way to get fast internet access – for example, those in rural areas where “fixed-line” broadband is uneconomic, and who therefore rely on mobile or satellite broadband.
All together, services which rely on EU radio spectrum represent more than €250 billion (2-2.5% of GDP). And mobile data usage in Europe is almost doubling every year, reaching around 1.5 trillion megabytes per month by 2015.
With that kind of mobile explosion, not having enough radio spectrum is going to present a major obstacle to Europe’s growth and development; we need a modern approach to spectrum management.
The challenge is how to make the best use of spectrum, while balancing the needs of all those who rely on this scarce resource. And how to co-ordinate this across Europe to unleash the benefits of the Single Market. Because I think a mobile should be mobile – not something you have to throw away just because you’ve crossed one of the EU’s internal borders. Coordinated spectrum policy can ensure that when you buy a mobile device, you can use it across the EU without having to worry about whether it’s compatible with the local network (and hopefully you won’t have to worry about high roaming prices either – though that’s a different story).
The Radio Spectrum Policy Programme we have proposed will ensure that Europe can achieve all this. Its agreement by the Council of Ministers – and earlier today by the European Parliament – is therefore a major step forward to helping us manage the future economy. Although this kind of policy-making is below the “radar” of most Europeans — it’s nonetheless hugely important, and a great achievement.
This Policy Program will let us make big steps – like authorising the use of spectrum at the “digital dividend” 800 Megahertz (MHz) band for mobile broadband in the whole EU. What’s more, we will be able to leap ahead still further – for example: through an inventory of spectrum usage with the aim of freeing up still more spectrum; through a competitive spectrum market; and through a joined-up approach in international negotiations.
These measures will be key to ensuring a coherent, coordinated radio spectrum policy in Europe; so that we can make the smooth transition from 3G to 4G and beyond; and so that we have the rails on which to run the communications revolution.