EU strikes preliminary deal on mobile broadband boost

A commuter uses his mobile phone in New York, December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

(Reuters) - Mobile telecom operators will get access to a key mobile spectrum band across Europe that will help them provide faster wireless internet, under an informal deal between EU states and lawmakers on Wednesday.

The agreement foresees the coordinated rollout of the 700 MHz band for wireless broadband by 2020, which will facilitate the takeup of 5G, the next-generation mobile technology that is expected to support driverless cars, remote healthcare and billions of everyday objects connected to the internet.

“The coordinated release of the 700 MHz band is major leap forward on the (European) Union’s path to 5G,” Guenther Oettinger, European Commissioner for the digital economy, said in a statement.

Wednesday night’s agreement will need to be formally endorsed by member states and lawmakers before becoming law. The 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz), currently widely used for digital television signals and wireless microphones, can penetrate buildings and walls easily and cover larger geographic areas with less infrastructure than frequencies in higher bands.

Member states can delay the assignment of the spectrum by up to two years if they have legitimate reasons, such as unresolved coordination issues with neighboring non-EU countries or if they need more time to reallocate the spectrum from broadcasting services.

“The timely release of spectrum bands is essential to completing 4G and launching 5G. Any delay would slow down mobile broadband deployment,” said Francesco Versace, director of regulation at ETNO, the association of European telecom operators.

Broadcasting services would keep priority in the sub-700MHz band (470-694 MHz) until at least 2030.

Only France and Germany have allowed the use of this spectrum for mobile services, while Britain, Denmark, Finland and Sweden plan to do the same in the coming years.

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Jonathan Oatis