Europe Lays Out Proposals For Wireless Spectrum Sharing Amongst Fiercely Competitive Carriers

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Carriers are fiercely competitive, but swallowing their territorial tendencies, several around Europe have started teaming up to share mobile spectrum and other resources in the ongoing race to serve hungry mobile consumers with data for their apps, video chats and film streams — expected soon to top 1 trillion megabytes of data per month. Today the EU took a step towards formalizing that, with the introduction of a proposal for spectrum sharing.

Announced by Neelie Kroes, VP for the European Commission, the proposal “is an essential part of the solution to dealing with the wireless crunch… by using new technical possibilities to create a secondary market for spectrum rights.”

The proposal doesn’t put out any specific suggestions for what needs to happen for sharing to work, but it does outline some existing services that are  a step in the right direction, along with the challenges that operators face — essentially the groundwork that the EU will use as it begins to lay out a more formal approach to how to share spectrum. Some of the notable points:

– By 2015 there will be 7.1 billion mobile phones, tablets and other devices worldwide; and goes into some detail on different approaches. The EU believes that putting in effective spectrum sharing could provide a “net increase in the value to the European economy of the order of several hundred billion Euros by 2020.”

– Public WiFi is a good model of how spectrum is already shared today

– Services like M2M networks and others that exist on unlicensed spectrum are good examples of how certain services can run on shared spectrum. There is some development here already: the document notes that some 80% of new wireless technologies that have been approved by ETSI are developed for license-exempt shared bands. Additionally, a call for more “white spaces” research.

– There will be an emphasis on using services like pico- and femtocells to hep offload data in licensed frequencies.

– Issues so far are the obvious ones. Competition does not get impacted — an especially important area in markets where the very largest players are teaming up together with smaller, newer operators being squeezed out in the process.

– Making sure the forecasts are right, specifically “whether existing shared bands have enough capacity — e.g. can the current RLAN bands accommodate the growth of both private broadband access and mobile
data traffic off-loading?”

– How to police sharing and assure “mutual responsibility,” as well as “legal certainty.”

In my opinion, the real test of this proposal will be whether the EU can manage to progress and implement it quickly enough. It’s worked in a deadline of sorts: the 2020 data point it notes above. Meanwhile, if you look at markets like the UK, operators and the regulator Ofcom are already well on their way to figuring out how to share spectrum, meaning the EU proposals may prove to be more essential for other countries in the Union, but not necessarily all.