What is radio spectrum?
Radio spectrum relates to radio frequencies, which are essentially airwaves used by wireless technologies to transmit and receive information. Radio spectrum is a key raw material for wireless communications. Commonly known technologies that use radio spectrum are wireless broadband, WiFi or 5G. Beyond these technologies, radio spectrum also enables current and future services in a diverse range of areas, including:
- broadcasting, including news reporting, interviewing and theatrical productions (e.g. wireless microphones and cameras)
- intelligent transport systems, which vehicles to communicate with each other and with road infrastructure, giving drivers information critical for safety - and perhaps intervening to prevent or mitigate dangerous incidents
- communication networks for emergency services
- the Internet of Things (e.g. smart grids, smart farming, smart cities, smart homes, industry 4.0)
- short-range devices based on sensors, spanning from simple garage door openers, alarm systems, to hearing aids and active medical implants, as well as smart health systems and telemedicine
Managing spectrum use
There are three essential roles in radio spectrum management:
- Allocating radio spectrum for use by particular technologies (to avoid risk of interference)
- Establishing technical conditions for radio spectrum usage
- Assigning radio spectrum to users (i.e. mobile operators, broadcasters, etc)
National governments organise and manage both how spectrum is divided for different uses (allocation); and how and who has the licence to use channels or blocks of spectrum (assignment). National governments also choose which process to use, such as competitive tendering for licences.
EU Member States manage radio spectrum in line with EU level legislation and international agreements. In this way, we can use radio spectrum to address today’s technical and societal challenges, and reap innovative technological opportunities.
Radio spectrum in the EU
The Commission, together with Member States, develops EU-wide spectrum policy and coordinates harmonisation and implementation to support the single market for innovative products and services, as well as reduce the risk of harmful interference between technologies and users.
EU radio spectrum policy has three overall goals:
- Harmonising the use of radio spectrum
- Working towards a more efficient use of spectrum
- Improving the availability of information about the current use, future plans for use and availability of spectrum
Member States coordinate the use of this essential resource by implementing Commission Decisions at national level. These Decisions are important tools, paving the way towards truly harmonised spectrum allocation throughout the EU.