Better mobile connectivity across Europe: Council confirms 700 MHz deal

The EU is responding to the rising demand for wireless connectivity by opening a key frequency band for mobile broadband. At the same time, the new rules take account of the continuing need for adequate bandwidth for television broadcasting. On 20 January 2017 member states’ ambassadors endorsed the deal concluded with the European Parliament on 14 December 2016.

Dr Emmanuel Mallia, the Maltese Minister for Competitiveness and Digital, Maritime and Services Economy, said: “Today’s decision means faster and better internet access, which is good for businesses and individuals right across Europe. We are also paving the way for the introduction of 5G technology, which will allow for greater connectivity and innovation.”

Under the agreement, EU countries will reassign the high-quality 700 MHz frequency band (694-790 MHz) to wireless broadband services by 30 June 2020. This coordinated use of airwaves will promote the take-up of 4G and help offer higher speeds and better coverage even in rural areas. It will also make it easier to roll out 5G (expected from around 2020), allowing for the large-scale introduction of innovative digital services such as telemedicine, connected cars and smart cities.

If member states are unable to meet the 2020 deadline, they may delay the reallocation by up to two years in duly justified cases. The agreed text sets out the possible reasons for such a delay. These include for example financial reasons and harmful interferences resulting from unresolved cross-border coordination issues.

The 470-790 MHz range is currently widely used for digital television broadcasting and wireless microphones, for instance in theatres, concerts and sporting events.

To give the audio-visual sector long-term regulatory predictability, broadcasting services will maintain priority in the sub-700 MHz band (470-694 MHz) at least until 2030, based on national needs. Member states will have the flexibility to use this range for other purposes, including mobile internet services, but this use must be compatible with broadcasting needs.

All EU countries must adopt a national roadmap by the end of June 2018, setting out how they will implement the decision. These roadmaps will be public.

How will it become law?

Once the agreed text has undergone legal-linguistic finalisation, it must be formally approved first by the Parliament and then by the Council (agreement at first reading). The procedure is expected to be completed in spring 2017.