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Shaping Europe’s digital future

Uses of Radio Spectrum

The Commission sets out ambitious connectivity objectives to achieve through widespread deployment and takeup of very high capacity networks, including wireless networks such as 5G, Wifi and satellite.

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Wireless broadband

Wireless broadband communications ensure wide coverage and connectivity for societal and industrial needs. Terrestrial mobile networks of different generations (from GSM to 5G) complemented by Wi-Fi Radio LANs provide access to the Internet for all citizens wherever they live, work and travel. More so, wireless broadband enables the interconnection of all types of machines and objects (‘Internet of Things’). Mobile communications access is also deployed on board aircraft and maritime vessels.

Advanced 5G connectivity is a key enabler for digitalisation and business transformation across various industrial sectors (‘verticals’) such as road and rail transport, smart manufacturing (Industry 4.0) healthcare or agriculture. Radio spectrum has been made available to support automated cars and trains - the EU-harmonised 5.9 GHz frequency band (5 875-5 935 MHz) enables vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity on roads, as well as the operation of radio controlled urban rail transport. The frequency bands 874,4-880,0 MHz paired with 919,4-925,0 MHz, as well 1 900-1 910 MHz, are also harmonised in the EU for Railway Mobile Radio (RMR), which is intended to ensure ubiquitous control and management of railway operations.

Mobile communications

Mobile communications have become an integral part of our lives, allowing for connectivity anywhere and at any time. Citizens, businesses and organisations around the world are increasingly relying on mobile communications to be able to communicate, work and collaborate.

The management of radio spectrum for mobile communications needs to be smart and efficient to prevent interference between different users, to maximize user benefits in terms of connectivity and sustainability, and to foster innovation and services in the single market. In order to achieve these objectives across the Union, and taking into account today’s socioeconomic challenges, the Commission, in cooperation with Member States, has been developing EU-level spectrum policy, and coordinating the allocation of radio spectrum under harmonised technical conditions, as well as the planning and execution of national spectrum assignment procedures.

In line with the Radio Spectrum Decision and the European Electronic Communications Code, the Commission develops technical implementing decisions to ensure harmonised conditions, for the availability and efficient use of radio spectrum, across the Union. Already more than 4 GHz of radio spectrum has been identified and harmonised at the EU level for terrestrial systems capable of providing wireless broadband electronic communications services (including mobile communications), which span  low, mid and high frequency bands in accordance with the principles of technology and service neutrality.

The Commission has also been monitoring and analyzing national spectrum awards procedures in Member States to ensure the timely availability of sufficient radio spectrum under pro-investment conditions within the EU-harmonised bands for the deployment of widespread wireless (including mobile) networks.

Network of small cells for 5G

Smarter wireless networks including small cells and distributed antennas are a prerequisite for a fully-fledged 5G rollout. In this context, the Commission Implementing Regulation  sets out the physical and technical characteristics of small cells that are exempted from any individual town planning permit or other individual prior permits. The definition of a small cell in the Implementing Regulation sets strict limits in terms of size and emitted power of those small cell installations.

This Regulation also ensures public health protection from exposure to electromagnetic fields as well as small cells visual integration. To this end, it provides for compliance with the electromagnetic fields (EMF) limits for the deployment of public mobile networks, which have been recommended at the EU level. These EMF limits safeguard a margin of 50 times below the levels indicated by international scientific evidence as having a potential effect on human health. The Regulation also addresses the visual appearance of small cells to avoid visual clutter. It lays out the specifications for a coherent and integrated installation, while providing national authorities with the means to oversee the aggregate deployment of small cells.

Industrial use cases

The deployment of reliable and resilient wireless connectivity is increasingly becoming a necessity for business-critical industrial processes, such as those related to automated manufacturing in smart factories (Industry 4.0). 5G connectivity can be used to connect sensors to various machines, thus enabling factories, airlines, automakers, and other industrial operators to monitor and manage equipment and products for the purpose of maintenance and repair. For example, data collected from sensors can be transmitted via the 5G network to processors with machine-learning algorithms to predict the future behaviour of the equipment before any serious damage occurs. Furthermore, industrial manufacturing relies on high precision, remote machine control as well as autonomous robots and indoor vehicles, which are inter-connected in a mission-critical 5G private enterprise network.

To this end, the Commission has mandated the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications (CEPT) to study the potential deployment of terrestrial wireless broadband systems providing local-area network connectivity for verticals within the 3.8-4.2 GHz frequency band in the Union. This initiative aims at promoting the development of the industrial 5G ecosystem, the efficient use of spectrum and the deployment of innovative sharing conditions within this band between 5G vertical applications and incumbent users (such as space-to-earth satellite links).

Mobile Communications on board Aircraft and Vessels

Multimedia experience can already be provided through mobile technology (including 4G) to passengers travelling on board aircraft and ships. Adding 5G connectivity in aircraft and on maritime vessels will enhance the communication services available for citizens during travel, whilst making use of the latest available mobile technology and ensuring efficient spectrum use. Mobile Communications on board Aircraft/Vessels (MCA/MCV) are systems that allow passengers to use their mobile devices (e.g. smart phones) on board. Currently, MCA and MCV services are in a limited number of aircraft and vessels and the interest in expanding these services both in scope and in coverage is growing.

Mobile Communications on board aircraft

In 2008, the Commission introduced harmonised technical rules for the launch of GSM (2G) services in the 1800 MHz frequency band for pan-European mobile communication services on board aircraft. Those technical rules were subsequently updated by the Commission in 2013 to include UMTS technology (3G) in the paired 2 GHz frequency band and LTE technology (4G) in the 1800 MHz frequency band, in addition to GSM (2G). This means that passengers were then able to use their mobile terminals for broadband services, such as internet access on an MCA-equipped aircraft. The Commission amended the decisions in 2016 to simplify mobile communications on board aircraft.

Mobile Communications on board vessels

In 2010, similarly to MCA, the Commission introduced harmonised technical rules for the launch of GSM (2G) services in the 1800 MHz frequency band for pan-European mobile communication services on board vessels. Those technical rules were also subsequently updated by the Commission in 2017 to include UMTS (3G) in the 2 GHz frequency band, and LTE technology (4G) in the 1800 MHz frequency band, in addition to GSM (2G). This means that passengers were then able to use their mobile terminals for broadband services, such as internet access on an MCV-equipped vessel.

Audio-visual services

Spectrum is a major component for the wireless distribution of audio-visual content. Terrestrial broadcasting is an important element of the European audio-visual model and fulfils major public policy objectives, such as cultural diversity and media pluralism.

The UHF Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council guarantees that the frequency band 470-694 MHz (the UHF band), used for terrestrial broadcasting, will be reserved for the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) and Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) use at least until 2030. In this way, DTT and PMSE providers have a long-term predictability for investment and innovation. A Member State can decide to use it for other services, but such use shall be compatible with national broadcasting needs and it must not adversely affect broadcasting in neighbouring countries. The UHF Decision was proposed on the basis of the Lamy report of August 2014 and the opinion of the Radio Spectrum Policy Group of February 2015.

A study on the use of the sub 700 MHz UHF band aims to facilitate a report by the European Commission on the developments in the use of the UHF band. The study will assess technological, social, economic, cultural, and international aspects related to the use of the UHF band.

Satellite Communications for remote areas

Satellite communications and data gathered by satellites have become indispensable for a wide range of applications. Satellites are providing safety of life services and other services to areas that are beyond the reach of terrestrial networks, such as at sea, in the air and in mountainous regions. They help bridge the digital divide by enabling access to wireless broadband in rural and remote areas. They can facilitate the broadcasting of TV signals over whole continents. Satellite navigation services are helping to improve mobility and reduce the number of accidents. Data gathered by earth exploration or meteorological satellites, as well as other scientific satellites facilitate weather forecasting and help monitor climate change.

Frequencies used by satellites are coordinated in compliance with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) procedures, ensuring that harmful cross-border interference is prevented or minimised. The ITU also maintains a Register of assigned frequencies and satellite orbits. ITU procedures do not extend to the selection and authorisation of satellite services, which is managed at the national level.

As satellites support a number of important EU policies, such as the Green Deal and programmes such as Galileo and Copernicus, Member States and the Commission, as mandated by theRadio Spectrum Policy Programme, should make sufficient spectrum available for such satellite services and adequately protect it.

The Commission had already harmonised in 2007 the conditions for the use of the 2 GHz band for systems providing mobile satellite services (MSS) in the EU. These are services provided by a satellite system, which communicates with portable terminals on the ground, which can be carried by a person or mounted on a ship or a car. Additionally, a special procedure was created at EU level to select MSS operators under a separate Decision of the European Parliament and the Council. On its basis, the Commission adopted a Decision in 2009 selecting two MSS operators. Subsequently, Member States granted those operators spectrum usage rights for 18 years.

License-exempt spectrum

Right to use spectrum in licence-exempt frequency bands are granted to devices that meet certain technical conditions to share the spectrum. However, individual users of licence-exempt devices are not protected against interference, and they are not provided with any guarantee about the quality of service.

There are two main categories of harmonised license-exempt spectrum use: Short-Range Devices (SRDs) and Wireless Access Systems including Radio Local Area Networks (WAS/RLANs), governed by Commission implementing Decisions on spectrum harmonisation under the Radio Spectrum Decision, as well as by the Radio Equipment Directive.

Short-Range Devices

Short-range devices (SRDs) are typically mass-market portable products, which can easily be taken and used across borders. Differences in spectrum access conditions in the Member States may therefore prevent their free movement, increase their production costs and create risks of harmful interference with other radio applications and services due to unauthorised use. To avoid or minimise these problems, Commission Implementing Decisions, from 2006 and amended in 2019, as well as a Decision on harmonised spectrum for short-range devices from 2018, ensure harmonised technical conditions for spectrum use for a variety of short-range devices.

The harmonisation of technical conditions for spectrum use by SRDs (provided by two Commission Decisions) supports various other EU policies (e.g. IoT, medical devices, transport and traffic telematics). Due to the growing economic importance of SRDs as well as rapid changes in technology and societal demands leading to new applications, the amendment of both Decisions on a regular basis is necessary.

Wireless Access Systems including Radio Local Area Networks (WAS/RLANs)

Wireless Access Systems including Radio Local Area Networks (WAS/RLANs) are broadband radio systems that allow wireless access for public and private applications regardless of the underlying network topology. A Commission Recommendation of 2003 called upon Member States to allow the provision of public RLAN access to public electronic communications networks and services subject at most to general authorisations. Moreover, RLANs are governed by the European Electronic Communications Code, which defines them as low-power wireless access systems, operating within a small range, with a low risk of interference with other such systems deployed in close proximity by other users, using, on a non-exclusive basis, harmonised radio spectrum.

Wireless Access Systems can be deployed either inside or outside buildings or other premises, usually in geographically limited areas. Broadband RLANs as a subset of WAS are a major type of equipment deployed today, predominantly used inside buildings. Typical WAS/RLANs include public and private applications offered in homes, schools, hospitals, hotels, conference centres, railway stations, airports, shopping centres, etc. These types of wireless applications may be either nomadic or mobile. They are typically intended for connections between traditional business products such as PCs, laptops, workstations, servers, printers and other networking equipment as well as digital consumer electronic equipment in the home or business environment.

WAS/RLANs contribute significantly to the objective of covering all households by a Gigabit network – according to the Commission strategy on the European Gigabit Society, all main socio-economic drivers (including schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services) as well as digitally intensive enterprises should have access to internet connections with download or upload speeds of 1 gigabit of data per second (Gbit/s) by 2025. All households in the Union should have internet connections with a download speed of at least 100 Mbit/s which can be upgraded to 1 Gbit/s.

Harmonised spectrum resources in the Union for the provision of wireless broadband via WAS/RLANs are available in the 2,4 GHz (2 400-2 483,5 MHz), 5 GHz (5 150-5 350 MHz and 5 470-5 725 MHz), which was harmonised by a Commission decision in 2005 and amended in 2007 and the lower 6 GHz (5945-6425 MHz) frequency bands, harmonised in 2021. Harmonised spectrum for WAS/RLANs should meet the requirements of a growing number and diversity of devices as well as increasing connection speeds and data traffic volumes. It should support the wide channels required by many applications (including videoconferencing, downloading media, telemedicine, online learning and gaming, augmented reality and virtual reality), which need a large bandwidth in order to achieve gigabit speeds. 

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See Also

The Radio Spectrum Committee

The Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC) is responsible for specific technical measures required to implement the broader Radio Spectrum Policy.

The Radio spectrum policy group

The Radio Spectrum Policy Group is a high-level advisory group assisting the Commission in the development of radio spectrum policy.