On 16 November, the EU Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) adopted two reports and issued another two for public consultation.  The reports are on "Collective Use of Spectrum and other Sharing Approaches" and "Improving Broadband Coverage."  The draft opinions are on the "Review of Spectrum Use" and "EU Assistance in Bilateral Negotiations."

The RSPG was established under the EU Electronic Communications Regulatory Framework as a body of senior policy makers from all 27 Member States active in spectrum management, set up to advise the European Commission on radio spectrum policy matters.  The four items that this body released in late November are especially detailed and informative.

The RSPG press release summarized all four items; we focus in this entry on the Broadband Coverage Report (PDF 200 kb) that reviews both wired and wireless infrastructure before focusing in depth on coverage aspects of wireless systems.

The Coverage Report describes in detail efforts by Member States to maximize broadband rollout, with statistics on fixed broadband coverage via DSL connections, fixed broadband lines by speed and mobile broadband coverage.  It analyzes different approaches that the Member States are taking towards improved coverage through wireless platforms; in particular, how different coverage obligations have been applied.

There are wide variations depending on the band and the national circumstances or policies.  The Coverage Report notes that objectives of ensuring wider coverage have focused on the lower bands, with more obligations imposed on 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands than on the 1800 MHz or higher bands.  For example, some Member States have imposed no coverage requirement at all in the 2.6 GHz band.  Coverage requirements can apply based on population, geographic areas, key national infrastructure (such as covering roads and ports, as in France) or even by reference to specific addresses that lack services (as in Sweden).  A number of Member States have allowed operators to satisfy coverage requirements by  combination of platforms or frequency bands.

This extended discussion of coverage obligations and national experiences takes up  the bulk of the Coverage Report.  However, there is another element to the paper that considers issues relating to competition in the wireless broadband market, in particular the issue of harmonizing frequencies across the EU.  The Coverage Report argues that harmonization may not always be the best policy if it freezes allocations in ways that are not appropriate for certain Member States. (It is this position that is getting most press attention.) It suggests a different approach by which harmonization is required only for Member States "where demand is clearly demonstrated."  This suggestion will likely be controversial as future harmonization measures are considered at the EU level.

As for the other RSPG papers, the main conclusions and recommendations of the Report on Collective Use of Spectrum and other Sharing Approaches (PDF 2.3 mb)  are:

  • A large part of the radio spectrum is already shared between different applications, but there is a need to foster more efficient use through appropriate regulatory measures.
  • However, there also is a need to foster development of appropriate regulatory mechanisms for sharing spectrum and to foster more efficient use of spectrum.  The Report recommends that a new concept of Licensed Shared Access (LSA) could provide more sharing opportunities on a European scale.

The draft Opinion on Review of Spectrum Use would advise the European Commission on implementing the pending Radio Spectrum Policy by identifying different phases of a spectrum review. It also discusses challenges for new allocations and the importance of ensuring that the appropriate affected parties are involved.

The draft Opinion on EU Assistance in Bilateral Negotiations focuses on developing strategies for EU support in bilateral spectrum coordination negotiation both with third countries and between EU countries.

Comments on both draft documents are due by January 10, 2012, and details can be found on the RSPG consultation page.