Red tape threatens digital dividend returns

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
28 Jun 2012

Digital dividend (DD) spectrum will be one of the most important drivers of LTE growth in the near term, but regulatory delays or poor rules could significantly hamper mobile broadband investments. In particular, as a new report indicates, regional harmonization can support optimal benefits from the new frequencies. Indeed, a centralized approach to managing the digital dividend spectrum could improve its impact on the European economy by €1bn to €3bn a year, according to the EU's Digital Agenda commissioner, Neelie Kroes.

Speaking at the Spectrum Management Conference in Brussels last week, Kroes said the European Union would gain the maximum benefits from the spectrum being freed up by transition to digital TV, if the region took a coordinated approach.

That would boost economies of scale for carriers, encouraging them to invest in networks which are regarded as important to boosting rural broadband services in Europe. The centralized approach would also boost roaming and allow for harmonized services and data rates. Kroes claims a central spectrum inventory would also boost harmonization efforts, and simplify the process of freeing up new frequencies, or of reallocating unused or underused blocks.

She called for every citizen to have data speeds of at least 30Mbps by 2020, a goal which the release of new spectrum will boost. However, although the European Commission aims to make at least 1,200MHz of spectrum available for mobile broadband by 2015, Kroes said many member states are still far away from achieving the target.

Some countries have auctioned LTE spectrum in one of the two main new 4G bands in the region (2.6-GHz and the 800-MHz dividend band), but only a few have sold licences in both, Germany being an important one. Other allocations, and refarming of 2G/3G spectrum, are under discussion in many areas.

“Sweden is already there; Denmark, Estonia, Germany and Latvia are there or are getting close. But 10 member states are not even halfway there,” Kroes complained. Similar themes are reported by spectrum analysts. Spectrum refarming, particularly in the former analog TV bands, should free an average of 300MHz of mobile spectrum worldwide by 2016, according to a new report by Maravedis-Rethink. However, the approach to new auctions will remain highly regionalized, and some areas will find themselves with non-mainstream band plans or delayed spectrum sales.

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