The 700 MHz club is gaining momentum

The European spectrum community (policy markers, mobile industry, broadcasters, satellite companies and public safety) gathered in Brussels this week to discuss vital issues regarding spectrum at the 8th Annual European Spectrum Management Conference. I would like to highlight three take aways from the conference:

  1. The second digital dividend is on the agenda for WRC-15 and it seems that consensus in Europe is now to push for a 2 x 30 MHz block in the 700 MHz band leaving sufficient with spectrum for public safety, while pushing back digital terrestrial television to the 600 MHz band and below. Mexico has decided to go for the APT (Asia Pacific Telecommunity) band plan in 700 MHz, which have paved the way for a wide adoption of the APT band plan in Latin America besides Asia, creating a potential market with 2 bn people. This could facilitate a partial harmonization with Europe. A release of 700 MHz for mobile broadband is part of the EU Commission’s strategy to take Europe back to the wireless forefront, supported by the mobile industry, altogether creating a growing 700 MHz club.
  2. Shared spectrum will be the norm going forward as it facilitates that more spectrum could be made available for mobile broadband. Various acronyms for approaches to spectrum sharing have been launched comprising some sort of authorization when there is an incumbent user and potentially using a clearing mechanism to release spectrum, but it is commonly a form of dynamic spectrum allocation. The EU Commission is scrutinizing how well how already allocated spectrum is utilized potentially giving further support for a wider regime of spectrum sharing in order to enhance spectrum efficiency.
  3. The liberalization of spectrum has been a success but the market for secondary spectrum trading is still immature. Although the liberalization of spectrum have established auctions as the main allocation mechanism spectrum trading has not yet taken off. There are trades on spectrum in the 28 GHz band for mobile backhaul in the UK, but major blocks of spectrum for mobile have not yet been traded. But transfer of spectrum triggers also competition concerns and the question for Europe is whether it would be accepted for operators to establish a substantial competitive advantage through spectrum. EU policy makers are looking with envy at the US market where both capex and ARPU is going up while the migration to 4G in Europe is slow.

Altogether, this industry seems currently to lack the ability to take radical and innovative steps to establish mobile systems and businesses that is able to provide massively more capacity at a lower cost consuming less energy. Network and spectrum sharing is a step in the right direction, but more is needed to bridge the gap to sustainable future business models and regaining Europe a position in the wireless forefront. It was therefore refreshing to learn that Mexico has taken a radical step and allocated the entire 700 MHz band to one operator that strictly will be a wholesale operator potentially making mobile broadband accessible at a low cost to the mass market and compete with the dominating operator that have a market share over 70 percent.

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