Europe and Spectrum Sharing: Ambitions and plans are not keeping pace with progress in the US

Rural broadband

Access to wireless spectrum is increasingly viewed around the world as an essential utility, and also a limited resource.  The EU definitely takes it seriously and, as part of the EU 2025 Connectivity objectives has mandated there must be “mobile coverage everywhere” and that by 2025 all households in the region must have access to internet speeds of at least 100 Mbps speeds. Wireless access is an important part of this, as is its 6 GHz spectrum plans, announced recently.

Recognising the need for a coordinated plan for maximising the opportunities (and efficiencies) of spectrum sharing, the European Commission’s Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) published a Spectrum Sharing report in February this year.

Given all this enthusiasm and plans – and the realisation that it’s essential – why is the EU so behind other (developed) regions, particularly compared to the US when it comes to making spectrum sharing happen? And what can be done to improve things?

In its Spectrum Sharing report, the RSPG compares the progress made in Europe with that in other countries: in particular, in the US with its Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). Although CBRS has taken time to gain momentum, it’s now clear that it is proving the value of a coordinated open spectrum licensing – with its three ‘levels’ of access increasing the options available to connect remote locations, remote businesses, or venues in hard-to-reach areas.

  • CBRS Incumbent Access licenses ensure federal and satellite applications in this part of the spectrum are protected
  • Protected Access Licences are 10 MHz chunks of spectrum, each issued via competitive bids on a county-by-county basis, for a period of 10 years
  • General Authorised Access (GAA) licenses are flexible access, allowing access to the widest possible group of users

CBRS started enabling connectivity for rural broadband, sports venues, or remote industrial (private) networks in 2019.

The EU’s RSPG has also looked at Ofcom’s (UK) shared and local access licensing plans which are now actively making progress to support both rural connectivity and the needs of industrial and remote applications that can be served by private networks. Real Wireless is the independent assessor for ‘Total Not Spots’ in the UK’s Shared Rural Network initiative.

The reality is that the national/regional needs across Europe are very different. As are the national versus the private or commercial interests in the telecommunications infrastructure and existing or evolving national business models. But the fact remains it’s an overriding need, and since 2017 it’s been clear that the EU was at risk of falling behind in its spectrum strategy.

Experiments In the Czech Republic have shown potential of boosting internet connectivity and facilitating telecommunications with applications supporting short range devices (SRD), ISM, satellite services, and radiolocation services. Public implementation is due to be announced this year.

Spectrum pooling in Finland is proving successful at delivering 2/3/4G services in areas of low population density, via a common network formed by DNA and Telia (two of the three national networks).

In Denmark, operators Telenor and Telia formed a nationwide spectrum sharing company but it has raised potential competition concerns, limiting access to parts of the network, and there seem to be more concerns over protecting their business.

Following its consultation into Licensed Shared Access (LSA), Italy failed to get any interest and the management of interference was seen as a barrier to wider adoption of vertical LSA developments.

A recent GSMA report on spectrum sharing stated: ‘Mobile operators should be permitted to voluntarily share spectrum to support faster services, improve coverage and drive innovation’; But, ‘regulators need to help incentivise incumbents in attractive bands to share’

The EU has found it difficult to get everyone on the same page. In trying to make a one-size-fits-all spectrum sharing policy, the Union run the risk of having something that fits no-one and ultimately stifles innovation and, even worse, slows down pan-European access to wireless coverage.

The technologies and the expertise exist to present solutions, and with the right level of EU support, to put in place a strategy for a pan-European framework which both encourages spectrum sharing and preserves existing business interests.

Real Wireless has already worked with pioneering regulators like RTR in Austria to deliver a network costing model to assess the economic impact of coverage obligations and help connect the unconnected. We have worked with Ofcom in the UK to help the regulator better understand spectrum requirements for businesses and citizens 2020-30. Getting spectrum policy right is now a pressing priority not just for the EU but for governments right across Europe. We look forward to working with national regulators to forge sharing strategy that can support present and future requirements and keep Europe competitive on the global stage.