Europe Opens Spectrum for Wireless Broadband

By Eric Griffith

July 15, 2005

The European Commission says that by October, member states can use areas of the 5GHz radio frequency that were previously verboten.

This week, the European Commission (EC) in Brussels gave the okay for enabling use of 5GHz spectrum (specifically, the bands between 5150-5350 MHz and 5470-5725 MHz) for license-free use with wireless networks (what the EC calls RLANs, or radio LANs). The move will allow broadband Internet usage in the 25 member states of the European Union (EU) to "become faster and more widespread," according to a statement.

Previously, the EC only allowed use of 2.5GHz spectrum, to prevent potential interference with other services using 5GHz, such as radar equipment. However, as more and more RLAN equipment is sold in the EU, the EC saw the 2.5GHz band becoming more congested. It says the new decision will ensure sufficient spectrum for new equipment for all member states.

European Wi-Fi equipment running in 5GHz will have to use mitigation techniques such as Transmitter Power Control (TPC) and Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) to prevent, for example, a hotspot messing with military radar systems. Harmonization of 5GHz was established in part at the World Radiocommunications Conference in 2003.

This decision by the EC is part of an overall initiative to create jobs and growth within the European digital economy. That policy, called i2010, is in place specifically to encourage further development of the "digital economy."

The decision to open the spectrum also coincides with the EC's open debate on bringing high-speed Internet access to more areas of Europe—another item considered vital for the i2010 initiative. Members of the EU are facing a digital divide between urban and rural areas. As of January 2005, 90 percent of the urban population of the EU could get broadband, while only 62 percent of rural residents could do so.

"Broadband is key to our competitiveness, and the challenge of closing this gap must be addressed urgently," said Viviane Reding, Information Society and Media Commissioner, in a statement. The opening of 5GHz means the market for Wi-Fi-type networks in the EU will now be consolidated with existing 802.11 products using 2.4GHz, which the EC says will reduce costs and increase the number of deployments. It will also help push the market for services like VoIP.

Some dual-band (2.5 and 5 GHz) products are already available in the EU, but the EC expects broader use of 5GHz equipment probably won't happen for about a year, starting with businesses.

The EC says, based on information from Pyramid Research, that Europe will have 26,000 hotspots in 2006, going to 114,000 by 2009.



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