|Europe II 2009
|Spectrum-driven innovation – Europes Great Opportunity
|President of the Hungarian Telecommunications Regulatory Authority
Dániel Pataki is the President of the Hungarian Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, NHH (Nemzeti Hírközlési Hatóság) and the 2008-2009 Chairman of the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG), which advises the European Commission on spectrum and brings together the EU’s 27 national spectrum authorities. In 2008, Mr Pataki chaired the European Regulators Group (ERG). as the Deputy Secretary of State in charge of communications, he elaborated Hungary’s new acts on Electronic Communications and on the Post. Prior to joining the government he held various positions at Total, Andersen and Vivendi Telecom Hungary. Dániel Pataki graduated from the Budapest University of Economics and completed a postgraduate management program in Paris.
The EU’s allocation of spectrum to GSM mobile technology provided an enormous boost to innovation that made Europe the leader in mobile telecommunications for almost 20 years. The digital dividend – the frequencies freed by the transition from analogue to digital television – once again gives the EU the opportunity to allocate spectrum in a way that will stimulate innovation, provide its citizens with access to low cost services and put Europe at the forefront of the wireless revolution.
At the end of the 1980s, just as Europe was on a political push to complete the EU single market, Member States agreed to reserve some radio spectrum bands for the exclusive use of GSM technology. This decision provided a tremendous boost for the telecoms industry as it sought to develop innovative, cheap, but high-quality mobile communications services across the whole of the EU – services which whole new swathes of citizens could benefit from as national borders were torn down. These developments ultimately turned the EU into the world leader in the telecoms industry, a position it held for the following 20 years. The importance of spectrum So, what was the key to this success? It was, in large part, due to the cross-border availability of high-quality spectrum, which drove European telecoms companies into innovating and developing new technologies and services. And the pre-condition for this success was simple: Member States agreed to coordinate their decisions on spectrum allocation, rather than taking individual national decisions. Why, at that time, did Member States decide to look beyond national boundaries? To better understand it, we need to explain what spectrum is about. Spectrum is a cross-border resource that is scarce; it is also a public good. Spectrum needs to be regulated so it is not wasted, but in a Europe with no borders, only coordination can ensure it fully achieves its EU-wide potential. Spectrum was a tremendous enabler back in the 1980s. Member States seized their opportunity to stimulate growth. Today, Europe’s politicians and regulators face a similar situation with spectrum, yet this time the stakes are far higher. The world is going through a severe recession that all experts say will last some time. Europe is losing its leadership role on telecoms; the United States is leading the fourth mobile generation, not Europe. The Lisbon Agenda’s objective to make the EU the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 is far from being achieved, but now is a time when radio spectrum could once again spearhead Europe’s innovation and growth. Innovation and growth in the ICT sector can benefit the economy as a whole. To achieve this, the EU must tackle two decisive, interrelated, spectrum issues – first, what to do with the digital dividend and, second, how to develop wireless broadband? If we can give a satisfactory answer to these questions the future of Europe’s ICT industry, and of Europe’s economy as a whole, looks promising. The European Commission, well aware of these challenges, is working on both issues and plans to come up with proposals by the end of the year. We, the national spectrum authorities, gathered together in the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG), believe these issues are of upmost importance and are committed to shaping the forthcoming decisions on spectrum. The RSPG advises the European Commission on high-level political issues related to spectrum. Created in 2002 it brings together the spectrum authorities of the 27 EU Member States. We act as a platform for debate amongst all spectrum stakeholders. We hold a unique position. We are both technical experts with an in-depth knowledge of the local market and we have a global vision of EU spectrum policy and political issues. We are in close contact with spectrum users and policy-makers at national, EU and international levels. We are ideally positioned to advise policy makers and ensure progress is made to the benefit of consumers. Digital dividend 2009 is the year to decide what to do with the so-called digital dividend, the frequencies which will be freed-up when the EU’s Member States switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, a process set to be complete by 2012. The additional spectrum made available by this shift could stimulate businesses to innovate, developing new, cheaper, better and wide-ranging services at the same time everywhere in Europe, bringing real added value to European consumers. One such example is the very promising LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology. If granted enough radio spectrum, this technology could achieve its full potential, and provide access to quality mobile voice and high bandwidth data services to every citizen and businesses anywhere in the EU. In order for this to happen, though, some tough decisions need to be taken regarding how to apportion the digital dividend. There are a number of challenges that need to be addressed: different timeframes in different Member States; the risk of Member States taking individual, not collective, decisions; what neighbouring countries and international spectrum organisations will do; and how to balance the (apparent) conflicting interests of different parts of the industry. The question here is not about privileging one industry over the other! We should not pre-empt spectrum for any specific use, as we cannot know which direction the most innovative services and technology will take. Service and technology neutrality must be ensured. Also on the institutional front – what is important is not who, or which, body makes the necessary decisions; what is important is to make sure that these decisions are taken. All these challenges, but also the vast potential up side, are why I have made the digital dividend a priority for my RSPG Chairmanship. We are currently working on constructive, workable solutions. We will present our first findings, to feed into the Commission’s roadmap on digital dividend, in our plenary session on May 13. I am convinced the RSPG’s opinion will be a useful contribution to the debate and will pave the way for a coordinated solution that I believe will be acceptable to all stakeholders. Wireless broadband Wireless broadband also features high on the agenda of my RSPG Chairmanship. Wireless broadband has great potential for innovation and growth. It is inextricably linked to the digital dividend debate as some of the bands freed up by the digital switchover could be used to develop it. Wireless broadband is a real chance for Europe. It could help bridge the digital gap within Europe. It is especially useful in remote areas where other technologies would be rather expensive to provide broadband connection. It also plays an important role satisfying the market demands due to the increasing mobility of users. Developing wireless broadband networks requires far less costly infrastructures than fibre networks, and can ensure good quality service. It could give high-speed Internet access to everyone, everywhere, support the spread of ICT and make Europe a real knowledge-based economy. Wireless broadband could reinforce competition between networks, technologies and services, to the benefit of consumers. The European Commission’s 14th telecoms progress report published on March 25 says that not only is mobile broadband taking off in the EU, it is already becoming a viable alternative to fixed broadband in some EU countries! Yet here again a number of obstacles lie in our way, and again unilateral decisions must be avoided. The RSPG is currently working on this issue and will come up with a position paper on May 13. As strategic adviser to the Commission, we will provide concrete proposals and ideas that we hope will be reflected in the Commission’s forthcoming roadmap on wireless broadband. The EU stands at a crossroad. As it did more than 20 years ago, the EU must seize the opportunity offered by the spectrum to regain its leading position in the telecoms sector. To do so it must take decisions on spectrum that are acceptable to all while enabling innovation – and it must take them now. We at the RSPG believe spectrum-driven innovation is a golden opportunity for Europe. Innovation is a tremendous source of growth, and this is particularly true for the ICT sector, but we must act now or we run the risk of lagging behind and depriving Europe of a promising way forward on the path to economic recovery. n