Europe Marches Its Airwaves Toward 4G By 2013

European countries must ensure they have auctioned their analogue TV spectrum for use by higher-speed mobile networks by January 1, 2013, according to a new agreement.

The European Parliament (release), European Commission (release) and member states in the European Council (release) have each agreed to a bloc-wide radio spectrum policy, which is one key plank of EC digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes’ grand “digital single market” plan.

North America is one of the few regions where 4G has been deployed in earnest. Despite exercises like the UK government’s lucrative 3G auction in 2000, much of Europe is still tentatively embracing 4G on an experimental basis.

Many individual EU member states already have plans to move to 4G. The UK has been switching off analogue TV signals so that spectrum can be freed up. But its national communication regulator has pushed back a planned auction from Q1 2012 to Q4 2012.

The coordinated European agreement is an attempt to set a January 2013 deadline on straggling individual governments, “in all but exceptional circumstance”. In total, the plan is to free up 1200MhZ of spectrum for mobile broadband.

These so-called “long-term evolutions” networks, at their best, can deliver data at speeds of 150Mbps, compared to the 1.5Mbps of current 3G networks.

Though the draft plan has been agreed upon under the EU’s co-decision principle, a final version is yet to be ratified by the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee on November 10 and later by Parliament as a whole.