Where will the RSPG find 1200 MHz of spectrum?

The EU has signed up to the RSPP which aims to find 1200 MHz of spectrum for broadband services by 2015. Where might this spectrum come from?
| Richard Womersley

The European Commission has recently agreed he Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP /headlines/eu-telecoms-ministers-approve-rspp) which will run until 2015, though in principle it will continue well beyond this. One of the key objectives of the RSPP is to: “make at least 1200 MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband services in the Union by 2015, following an assessment based on the new spectrum inventory”.

The 1200 MHz of spectrum is not 1200 MHz of new spectrum, but includes that which is already available for mobile services.  This includes:

Frequencies (MHz) Amount of spectrum Notes
791-821 // 832-862 60 MHz 800 MHz band (Digital Dividend)
880-915 // 925-960 70 MHz 900 MHz band
1710-1785 // 1805-1800 150 MHz 1800 MHz band
1900-1920 20 MHz 2 GHz TDD band (part A)
1920-1980 // 2110-2170 120 MHz 2 GHz FDD band
2010-2025 15 MHz 2 GHz TDD band (part B)
2500-2570 // 2620-2690 140 MHz 2.6 GHz FDD band
2570-2620 50 MHz 2.6 GHz TDD band

This little lot already comprises 625 MHz or over half of that being sought.  If we add in bands which are already being touted for future mobile connectivity (eg by the ITU), or which are already available in some EU Member States but not necessarily all, we can add the following to our inventory:

Frequencies (MHz) Amount of spectrum Notes
452-457 // 462-467 10 MHz 450 MHz band
1785-1805 20 MHz Duplex gap in the 1800 MHz band
1880-1900 20 MHz Used for DECT in the EU but formally an IMT200 band
2300-2400 100 MHz 2.3 GHz band
3400-3600 200 MHz 3.5 GHz band

This adds another 350 MHz making our total so far 975 MHz. In order to achieve the RSPP objectives, another 225 MHz of spectrum is therefore needed. Simply  harmonising those bands listed in the table above across Europe would bring the RSPG pretty close to their 1200 MHz target – not that agreeing such harmonisation would be simple, but there are precedents in some EU Member States which could be expanded more widely.

If we broaden slightly our definition of ‘wireless broadband services’ to include WiFi, where public, commercial networks already operate albeit not with the same degree of protection as those in fully licensed spectrum, we should add the following to our list:

Frequencies (MHz) Amount of spectrum Notes
2400-2483.5 83.5 MHz 2.4 GHz band (eg WiFi)
5150-5350 200 MHz Lower 5 GHz band (indoor only)
5470-5725 255 MHz Upper 5 GHz band
TOTAL 538.5 MHz

Achieving wider use of just one of the 5 GHz bands alone would get things looking up. Whilst the target of finding 1200 MHz of spectrum may seem ambitious, there are plenty of bands which, with some effort (and the amount of effort should not be underestimated) could meet the target.

The spectrum inventory currently being undertaken by the RSPG will certainly assist in understanding the extent to which these bands might be able to be used more widely across Member States, and may even throw up other opportunities not listed above.  If more than 1200 MHz could be found, it might provide flexibility for those countries where some of the bands cannot be made available because of, for example, significant use by spectrum incumbents such as public sector users.

The bigger question is possibly, “Is 1200 MHz enough?”  Certainly in a 2015 timescale, it would seem to be, especially given the time-to-market between any spectrum being released and networks being rolled-out.  Perhaps one of the goals of the RSPG should be to determine exactly how much spectrum is likely to be required for ‘wireless broadband services’ into the future, which, tied with the results of the inventory might serve to give an indication of how much, and from where, any future spectrum requirements above the initial 1200 MHz target might come.

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