Swift and efficient management of spectrum is essential for creating sustainable, next generation fixed, mobile and satellite networks. These networks will ensure top notch, secure connectivity for European citizens across the EU and pave the way the path for the 2030 Digital Decade.
In order to ensure easier access to radio spectrum, the EU will build on the electronic communications regulatory framework, which was updated in 2018 through the adoption of the European Electronic Communications Code.
The key objective of the Code is to support the deployment of a world-class communication and broadcasting infrastructure. The Code provides the regulatory framework to boost investment in connectivity and reinforce European digital competitiveness.
Radio spectrum in the European Electronic Communications Code
The Code includes important provisions for radio spectrum, notably complementing the 2012 multi-annual Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP), supporting cooperation and coordination between Member States on EU spectrum policy, and setting policy orientations and objectives for the strategic planning and harmonisation of radio spectrum use in the EU.
Regarding radio spectrum, the current regulatory framework aims at:
- bringing a more consistent internal market approach to radio spectrum policy and management;
- providing the necessary flexibility to respond to dynamic market developments and innovative technologies;
- increasing further legal certainty and regulatory predictability for a safe investment environment for new wireless broadband communications;
- driving more investment in high capacity 5G networks by ensuring timely assignment of harmonised bands and long and renewable licenses, facilitating network densification and infrastructure sharing, while ensuring proper protection of the public against electro-magnetic emissions;
- ensuring timely use of 5G pioneer bands, based on technical harmonisation decisions pursuant to the 2002 Radio Spectrum Decision;
- ensuring technology and service neutrality, reflecting the growing convergence of technologies, products and services in telecommunications;
- improving cooperation between Member States on draft authorisation processes;
- supporting cross-border coordination to eliminate harmful interference between Member States and with third countries;
- ensuring effective competition conditions;
- facilitating joint authorisation processes.
Authorisation and Flexibility
Under the Code, the use of spectrum should be governed by general authorisation unless justified for efficiency maximization, avoidance of harmful interference, technical quality of service, safeguarding efficient use of spectrum or fulfilling general interest objectives.
In practice, due to the remaining technological limitations of interference management, spectrum use is often subject to individual usage rights. Furthermore, the need to ensure efficient use of scarce radio spectrum may justify limiting the number of rights of use in certain situations.
In such cases, the best outcome is generally to ensure that spectrum is made available to service operators and providers in a flexible manner. This allows the optimum use of this scarce resource.
The Code sets the principles of technology and service neutrality as a rule, but exceptions are still possible where properly justified. For example, limiting technology neutrality in order to avoid harmful interference, or limiting service neutrality in order to promote social, regional or territorial cohesion or to avoid inefficient use of spectrum.
Therefore, within the limits of the neutrality principles, public authorities have a critical role in balancing various types of spectrum allocations to best satisfy current and future needs. For example, public authorities may facilitate a transition to more modern and efficient spectrum technologies, or review socially and economically declining uses. This can avoid an excessive allocation of valuable spectrum, beyond what is reasonably justifiable concerning other potential uses.
Based on the provisions of the Code, a positive transition can be supported by allowing spectrum trading and flexible conditions of use of spectrum. It can also be supported by introducing more efficient or intelligent technologies that support the sharing of frequencies. In other cases, strategic re-allocation or re-purposing of spectrum may be needed at EU level.