|Europe I 2009
|Spectrum management for a competitive wireless Europe
|Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS)
Marianne Treschow is the Director General of the Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS). Dr Treschow also served as the President of Sweden’s Radio Spectrum Policy Group. Prior to this appointment, she was Director of the Spectrum Department at PTS. Dr Treschow was previously, a Director of the Swedish National Space Board dealing specifically with science and earth observation and was a Director of the Swedish Research Council. Dr Treschow is a Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. Marianne Treschow holds a Doctor Degree in Chemistry from Stockholm University.
The European Commission wants to establish more liberal spectrum policy and provide better wireless services for consumers. This requires cooperation between spectrum and market regulators, further liberalisation of spectrum management, a harmonised approach to the digital dividend and a pro-active approach when new technologies arise to evaluate them and take prompt action to promote their usage. There is a need today to study how to open up the use of whitespace frequencies in Europe rather than to sit and wait.
Technology and markets evolve rapidly and the importance of wireless communications increases. To reap the benefits of this development in full, radio spectrum management must be prepared to take necessary steps to facilitate this development. Europe has an opportunity not only to be competitive, but also to take the lead in some areas. This, though, will not happen without action from spectrum managers in Europe. Here I will promote three issues – closer cooperation between spectrum and market regulation, using the digital dividend in a harmonised way, and finally some suggestions regarding how Europe can prepare itself for the challenges from new technology and how to turn these challenges into possibilities. Joint Discussion on Spectrum and Market Regulation In the current review of the European framework for electronic communications services and networks, the European Commission (EC) wants to take further steps towards a more liberal spectrum policy, by establishing a set of forward-looking principles. This initiative will, in the long run, lead to more and better wireless services for consumers. The EC emphasises the role of trading, market flexibility and technology and service neutrality, but stresses, at the same time, the need for a clear justification of exclusive usage rights, to differentiate itself from market-fits-all propositions. The distinction between different access methods is becoming less important since similar services can be provided over a number of different platforms. There is no fundamental difference between fixed and wireless networks when they offer similar services. Convergence, digitalisation, harmonisation, technological advance and technology neutrality calls for a convergence in policies and regulatory approach. Broadband is at the centre of the question, and its market regulation, spectrum policy and consumer interests must be discussed not only in parallel, but together. Broadband has become the key to information society communications and connectivity for all. In this context, a common view and approach between regulators are necessary. The two most important networks of regulators in this area are the European Regulators Group (ERG) and the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG). The ERG was set up by the European Commission as a group to advise the Commission, when the “new” regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services was enacted in 2002. The ERG’s main task is to provide a suitable mechanism for encouraging cooperation and coordination between national regulatory authorities and the Commission. The ERG takes action to promote the development of the internal market for electronic communications networks and services and to seek to achieve consistent application in all Member States. The European Commission established the RSPG. Its main task is to assist and advise the Commission on radio spectrum policy issues, co-ordination of policy approaches and, where appropriate, harmonised conditions with regard to the availability and efficient use of radio spectrum necessary for the establishment and functioning of the internal market. Many of the issues on the ERG’s agenda are directly or indirectly spectrum related, and the reverse is also true, many of the issues on the RSPG agenda are competition related. Spectrum management and market regulation will increasingly intertwine. A new regulatory approach would have to involve the ERG as well as the RSPG. To enable a closer cooperation between ERG and RSPG a joint meeting between the organisations was set up in Gothenburg in early 2008, by me as the Chair of RSPG and Daniel Pataki as the Chair of ERG. As a result of the meeting, the chairpersons took upon themselves the task of elaborating the potential areas of cooperation. The goal was to provide strategic guidance and advice on issues raised by sector specific regulation and spectrum management in order to ensure promotion of competition. This process leads to regulatory challenges and a number of questions to answer. Four areas for further analyses were identified – market definitions, transitional issues, information symmetry and use of spectrum to dominate markets. A joint project team has been set up, chaired by the Swedish regulator PTS, to study these issues, bridge the institutional gap between ERG and RSPG and create a common understanding between the networks. Initiating this dialogue and creating a common work agenda is a modest, but necessary, first step which I hope will lead to not only a common focus, but also practical policy suggestions aimed at increasing competition, be it through wireless or fixed networks. This will, in turn, create leverage for more and better services, giving European broadband end-users true freedom of choice. The digital dividend The digital dividend, the spectrum made available following the switchover from analogue to digital television, can – if handled wisely – contribute to bridging the digital divide in Europe. The need for more capacity in wireless networks is already apparent. Consumer demands for capacity and extended mobile broadband coverage will continue to increase. To meet this demand, the market needs more spectrum. The digital dividend provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to release a lot of spectrum that can be used for more and better communications services. Given that the European map, when it comes to the switchover from analogue to digital television is not uniform, there is a need to proceed in a manner that enables both economies of scale and harmonisation, whilst respecting national interests, timetables and situations. I believe that a European ‘soft harmonisation’ is needed to identify a non-mandatory sub-band of the UHF band. A ‘soft harmonisation’ could enable member states to create switchover and dividend strategies, so spectrum users could plan their future, for industry to develop equipment and so end-users could use services both in dense and rural areas. I believe the digital dividend issue should be seen as the process where the potential to release spectrum in a post analogue world is assessed. In Sweden this assessment has been made by the Government – and we now prefer to talk about the 800MHz-band rather than the digital dividend. The 800MHz band consists of 72MHz, which is a significant amount of spectrum. This band will be vacated and made available for licensing. A sixth national multiplexer for digital television is planned under 790MHz, and a new multiplex in band III (VHF) has also been planned. Given that Sweden has released the 800 MHz band, we are hoping that both the harmonisation process and national decisions will go in the same direction. On October 20, 2008, the French government announced that France would allocate the 800MHz band for mobile services, and seek coordinated use with other European countries. This is a major break-through, which I believe will speed up the process in Europe. I now follow the debate in Germany closely. I urge more European countries to join the ‘800MHz Club’, and believe that harmonised action will help realise the great potential of the digital dividend in favour of our end-users. Whitespace Technology – Facing the Challenge On the topic of the digital dividend, a less discussed part of spectrum is the so-called whitespace, i.e. the interleaved spectrum in terrestrial broadcasting. The recent decision by the FCC in the United States regarding the use of whitespace is in many ways controversial, but it shows it is possible to pave the way for more efficient use of spectrum and innovative ways of sharing spectrum. The digital dividend process in Europe has come, in great degree, to deal with the release of ‘virgin spectrum’ – spectrum freed from other use that can be planned and used under a greenfield scenario. So far, there has been little serious discussion in Europe regarding the wider use of whitespaces. This is a controversial question in Europe – and to say the least – difficult, but one should not avoid an issue just because it is difficult. The work done so far in Europe regarding whitespace usage is unsatisfactory. It is high time for Europe to move on this issue. Theoretically, the potential arising from use of whitespaces is great. From a practical viewpoint, it is somewhat more difficult. What is undisputed is that the whitespaces between broadcasting stations can be used for other types of services. The fact that wireless microphones use whitespaces today is proof that whitespaces can be used. As previous chairperson of the RSPG, I have seen how Europe can take bold initiatives in spectrum management, the so-called WAPECS opinion from the RSPG is a perfect example. I believe that the whitespace issue is another area where policy needs to lead and technical work has to follow. My proposal is to initiate studies on how whitespace use can be opened up in Europe and that Europe advances on this difficult issue rather than to sit and wait. To conclude – cooperation between spectrum and market regulation and further liberalisation of spectrum management, a harmonised approach to the digital dividend and a clear message to evaluate and take proper action when facing new technology, are three ways forward for Europe. Lack of action will weaken our chances of reaping the full benefits of the rapid development of wireless technology.