12 September 2012 by Pelle Neroth
The European commission has therefore decided to do some spring cleaning, to knock heads together and to get users to utilise the spectrum more efficiently. In a memo published last week, it called for a new approach. Sharing is going to be the way ahead.
There will be two ways to go about this. One, several operators sharing the same spectrum at the same time, or, two, the operators that are the "haves" being forced to sublet the parts of the spectrum they own to the "have-nots". Either way, some companies may not be very happy about this.
To be more specific, in the future a growing number of operators will find themselves having simultaneous rights of access to the same spectrum bands - and the commission, in a memorandum published this week, wants to create the regulatory environment to make spectrum sharing easier to happen. There will be attempts to try and make sure that technology is developed to the point that operators can coexist within the same spectrum with a minimum loss of service to each. The way users share wifi networks currently may show the way forward.
An alternative is to allow licensed holders of the part of a spectrum to sublet their frequencies exclusively, this time, for a fee to new operators. So - either sharing or subletting the spectrum, either way allowing the have-nots to have a piece of the action.
In some countries a kind of subletting of the spectrum already takes place but the commission wants each country to monitor its local usage patterns with a view eventually to harmonising European standards according to the practice of the countries that harnesses its total spectrum most efficiently. What the commission calls "adopting best practice".
Like many commission memoranda, it's hard to be concrete about this in way that journalism usually demands. Digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes's proposal on Monday last week seems to be the usual kind of kite flying. It is very early days yet, and the commission has yet to submit a proposal, let alone set any dates for the European parliament and council to act. They are waiting for the IT industry to respond.
The commission cannot easily force governments to disband their telecoms champions. But one wonders whether the commissions's ultimate dream is if there were, in every member state, a functional separation between the radio spectrum and the users of it similar to the arrangement that has taken place in landline communications in some countries.
The UK here is the model. BT, for instance, long ago had to split its infrastructure and consumer businesses, letting rivals onto their networks in return for a fee. So the whole radio spectrum could ultimately be turned into a field on which everyone can "buy" space. Exclusive ownership will be a thing of a past. As said, this is just speculative.
Governments might be less than pleased with this, since it brings some kind of single market - which the EU champions - to the radio spectrum. The very word "single market" famously makes some southern EU nations see red. And it may reduce the prices for the 4G licences they hope to profitably sell. Anyhow, the bigger picture is that, when space gets scarcer, everyone has to squeeze in that little bit more tightly, and start sharing.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 13 September 2012 at 10:05 AM by Pelle Neroth
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 12 September 2012 09:32 PM General
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