Tuesday

14th Aug 2018

Focus

Some EU states face delays in 5G preparation

  • Communication in some parts of the Scottish Highlands still relies on old-fashioned traditional means, as mobile signals are not always available (Photo: Peter Teffer)

A handful of English tourists was recently waiting for a ferry service to the Scottish island Handa, when a typical 21st century smalltalk topic emerged.

The tourists compared their phones and whether they had a mobile connection.

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  • The 700 MHz operation is deemed necessary to roll out 5G connections (Photo: Peter Teffer)

"I have three bars," said one of them, referring to the signal strength indicator.

Another said he had suddenly received a flood of emails – after not having been connected to the internet for a while.

Some of Scotland's remote regions in the Highlands hardly have stable mobile connections to the internet.

While this can be appealing to tourists who actually want to go offline, it carries the risk of a new societal divide.

The European Union wants to reduce this digital divide, by making broadband services more available in rural areas.

One of the ways of doing that is by freeing up a frequency band currently used for digital terrestrial television.

The rules were agreed in an EU decision adopted unanimously in May 2017.

By June 2020, all EU member states have to have cleared up the 694-790 MHz frequency band ('700 MHz' for short) so that it can be used for mobile communications.

Those services now occupying the 700 MHz band need to move to a different frequency. According to the commission, the migration is needed for the EU to successfully roll-out a much faster mobile connection (5G).

The 2020 deadline is not completely binding though, as member states that have "justified reasons" may ask for a two-year delay.

There are already signs that some EU states are struggling to take the required preparatory measures.

Last month, the European Commission sent Belgium a so-called "letter of formal notice" for not complying with an interim deadline.

According to the 2017 decision, each member state was required to conclude cross-border frequency coordination agreements with its neighbours.

The commission said that Belgium had not signed such agreements yet with Germany and the UK, "and thus does not comply with the 700 MHz decision obligations".

"The due date to adopt these agreements was at the end of 2017," the commission said in a press statement.

"As a consequence, the development of 5G might be delayed in Belgium and its surrounding countries," it added.

The letter of formal notice is part of the EU's infringement procedure, which could end up in the Court of Justice of the EU.

'As soon as possible'

But another deadline from the 700 MHz decision has also been missed by some member states.

The EU law said that all EU countries should publish a national 700 MHz roadmap "as soon as possible and no later than 30 June 2018".

Several countries have now missed that deadline.

Latvia is one of them.

Edvins Usca, senior officer at the department of communications at the Latvian ministry of transport, told EUobserver in an email on Tuesday (7 August) that the 700 MHz roadmap was "still in the adoption phase".

"Unfortunately, it is not possible to give a precise date currently," he said, adding that adoption should happen "as soon as possible".

Lithuania was also not able to publish the roadmap on time.

"Unfortunately, because of prolonged consultation process with relevant stakeholders the national plan and schedules on the 700 MHz frequency band is [still] under consideration," said Augutis Cesna, director of the radio communication department at the Lithuanian Communications Regulatory Authority, in an email on 5 July.

In that July email, he added that the expected time of approval was the end of July - but this week said that because of the holiday period it was difficult to confirm whether that has actually happened.

Romania published its roadmap mid-July.

Ahead of the 30 June deadline, an EU working group document published already signalled that progress on the national plans was limited.

On 5 June, only 12 of 28 EU countries had agreed their national roadmap, according to the most recent progress report of the radio spectrum policy group.

The EU states have been asked to provide a link to their national roadmap by 31 August.

Missing the June deadline is somewhat embarrassing, given that it was already a later date than originally proposed.

When the European Commission proposed the draft bill in 2016, it aimed for a roadmap deadline of 30 June 2017.

Some MEPs had even proposed the deadline to be even earlier: 1 January 2017.

However, during the negotiations between EU institutions, the Council of the EU – representing national governments – managed to secure an extra year to prepare.

But even this was apparently not enough time for some.

EU rules on 700 MHz: technical issue or power grab?

The EU executive is trying to convince EU countries to commit to some coordination in the assignment of a specific set of radio frequencies, after it failed to garner support for broader, common rules.

EU agrees deadline for 5G internet plan

National governments agreed to free up bandwidth to be dedicated to mobile internet by 2020, although they insisted on a possible two-year extension.

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