New European spectrum plan aims to boost UMTS – universal mobile telephony system

New European spectrum plan aims to boost UMTS – universal mobile telephony system – Government Activity

David Molony

The European Commission is set to make a bid for new and wide-ranging powers to decide how radio spectrum is allocated across the European Union.

The move is part of a drive to build on the region’s dominant position in the development and provision of mobile phone technology.

A Green Paper setting out options for reforming the current fragmented system of national spectrum management will be. published in the summer, according to a senior official in the EC’s directorate general XIII, which is responsible for telecoms.

The EC wants to follow European industry’s success with the global system for mobile (GSM) standard, and ensure it becomes the model for development of universal mobile telephony system (UMTS), as well as other broadband wireless technologies.

“Ideally we would have the [same] regulatory conditions for broadband wireless development across Europe.” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The paper will inevitably present a challenge to the national agencies that currently control spectrum use in member states, and is likely to lead to a serious argument over national security.

But most significantly, the paper is likely to meet resistance from the Conference des Administrations Europeenes des Postes et Telecommunications (CEPT), the industry body that currently represents 43 European countries in for a such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

CEPT coordinates Europe’s position at the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC), where global spectrum allocation is decided. It has a reputation for jealously guarding the sovereign interests of its member states, which observers predict will make it hostile to any pan-European initiative on the spectrum issue.

Champions of the European development of UMTS say CEPT’s record there has been patchy. They say European companies could have more influence over the allocation of spectrum if the European Union had a direct representation.

A recent position paper from the European Public Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, in Brussels, said CEPT is not moving fast enough to allow new wireless services into the market.

The DG XIII official declined to say what specific proposals for legislation might be included in the paper. But when asked if they would include pan-European spectrum licensing or the establishment of a new European authority, he said the paper would deal with “all these issues.”

Until now spectrum management has been reserved for national agencies because radio frequency is essential to defense and emergency services. The EC has broached Europe-wide spectrum planning before, but has always backed down under pressure from member states. A communication published one year ago is still, technically, on the agenda of the Telecommunications Council of Ministers.

Now the EC is thought to be ready to intervene in the spectrum allocation process because it considers the current process to be too slow to meet the requirements of commercial wireless technologies.

The belief is that spectrum may not be available in good time for third-generation cellular mobile services or wireless local loop operators. Both kinds of systems are making the transition to broadband services, but national frequency agencies have yet to make sufficient provision for them in the spectrum table.

Analysts say the emergence of new wireless technologies is forcing the EC to the conclusion it must intervene.

“There is an urgent need for a pan-European approach,” said Roger Tuckett, Brussels-based managing director of WRQ Consultants Ltd., of Henley-on-Thames, England. “Not enough spectrum is being made available for new services, and where it is coming through it is arbitrary country by country. The European Commission has to decide whether it can afford not to take a mandate in this area.”

The EC currently has no authority at all to decide how spectrum is allocated to telecoms operators. It is one of the last areas in which the European Union’s main industry regulator does not have a direct jurisdiction.

Some analysts warn that any attempt by Brussels to influence spectrum management policy could cause confusion in the industry.

“The last thing the industry needs is to have one bureaucracy in Copenhagen [CEPT’s administrative center] working on spectrum facilities with more than 40 national agencies, and to have another bureaucracy in Brussels, even if it is working at a slightly different level,” said Stephane Chenard, senior consultant at Euroconsult SA in Paris.

First attempt failed

A previous attempt to legislate on spectrum allocation, initiated by the European Commission in 1993, had to be abandoned because of industry pressure.

But U.S. analysts watching the emergence of a major new broadband wireless sector in their own country say a pan-European approach is inevitable.

They say until there is a universal spectrum mechanism, development of broadband technology and services will stay fragmented. “Vendors and operators will press regulators until they develop a common frequency platform,” said Nicole Baker, analyst at Pyramid Research Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts. “In Europe, this is bound to mean pressure on CEPT.”

In the United States, the telecoms industry has been set alight by new operators such as Teligent Inc. and Winstar Communications Inc. that claim to offer highly mobile and cost-effective broadband tails in metropolitan business networks.

Major vendors such as Northern Telecom Ltd., of Brampton, Canada, and Lucent Technologies Inc., of Murray Hill, New Jersey, have already acquired broadband wireless capability (CWI, 15 December 1997). And last month Hughes Network Systems Inc., of Germantown, Maryland, joined the rush by announcing a new range of point-to-multipoint broadband wireless equipment.

The Federal Communications Commission has underpinned industry expectations by auctioning licenses to operate local multipoint distribution services (LMDS) in the 26 gigahertz waveband.

But there has been no comparable spectrum allocation in Europe. Instead, national agencies, such as the Radiocommunications Agency in London, have followed their own spectrum allocation plans. But the 10.5 GHz licenses issued by the U.K. authority have yet to be used. And in France, the Autorite de Regulation des Telecommunications has only just decided to release 3.4-3.6 GHz and 27.5-29.5 GHz waveband for a pilot project.

Critics say this is much too slow, inconsistent and unpredictable for development of UMTS. They point out that the forerunner of UMTS, the European GSM standard for cellular voice telephony, was based on a pan-European initiative, and that if that success is to be repeated then pan-European spectrum framework is needed.

Ironically, industry is also worrying that an EC initiative on spectrum planning could slow down Europe’s preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference in 1999, when members of the ITU will decide global spectrum allocation for the next few years.

The EC has not yet delivered a position paper to CEPT for WRC 99, and some observers think this may have been held up by discussion on the Green Paper.

CEPT meets in Copenhagen this month, and will be considering the agenda for WRC 99. The EC does not have delegates going, although it is submitting a conference paper.

Brussels-watchers say they have been waiting for policy papers from the EC since the beginning of the year.

Gerald Oberst, telecoms lawyer with Hogan & Hartson LLP, of Brussels, said European industry-watchers are particularly concerned that the EC does not seem to have even begun planning for WRC 99.

European mobile market

Market in 2005 Total mobile Mobile multimedia

market segment

Users 200 32

(millions)

Service revenues 104 24 [*]

(billion ECU)

Traffic 6320 3800

(Million megabytes/month)

Traffic 32 119

(Megabytes/user/month)

(*.)Plus a further 10 billion ecus from terminal revenues

Source: UMTS Forum

Satellite issues

Broadband wireless operators are not the only ones looking to CEPT to find room for their new services in Europe. New narrowband service operators have been there too, and are ready to defend it.

Satellite personal communications systems operators such as 100 Global Communications Ltd., of London, Globalstar LP, of San Jose, California, and Iridium LLC, of Washington DC, say they have been happy with the progress of their new service applications through CEPT.

In particular, they say the introduction of a milestone review committee parallels the construction milestone conditions the Federal Communications Commission places on new licenses granted to operators in the United States.

This helps prevent warehousing of spectrum, the process whereby companies acquire a slice of spectrum only to prevent potential competitors using it.

Satellite operators say UMTS will only need two small sections of waveband, each of 30 MHz, in the space segment–not enough to warrant the European Commission taking general powers.

But, admitted Bob Phillips, vice president spectrum standards at CO Global Communications: “Eventually some form of directive could be required for UMTS spectrum in general within Europe.”

But even critics of a pan-European agency admit CEPT has a record of national horse-trading that has tended to confuse European policy-making.

They say companies such as Teledesic Corp., the U.S. broadband satellite carrier, have cut separate deals with different European countries and effectively divided CEPT at the World Radiocommunications Conference.

“To be frank [CEPT] is not an easy process to go through,” said Stephane Chenard, senior consultant at Euroconsult SA in Paris. “I can see why the European Commission wants to have more direct control. Third generation cellular has been waiting for spectrum since 1992 and it cannot wait another five years.”

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