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Enhancing the mobile broadband capacity in Europe

Enhancing the mobile broadband capacity in Europe
© contrastwerkstatt / Fotolia

There are two recent trends which are expected to much impact the digital economy in the years to come: on the one hand, mobile broadband traffic continues increasing fast and different forecasts agree on the fact that it is expected to increase dramatically thanks to the popularity of smart phones and tablets. For instance, global mobile traffic is predicted to grow 66 percent a year and by 2017 some predict that wired devices will account for 45 percent of IP traffic, while Wi-Fi and mobile devices will account for the majority of traffic (about 55 percent of IP traffic). The proliferation of new applications, devices and services has led to increased data traffic flowing through mobile broadband networks, while emerging wireless applications such as wireless cloud, media, and Internet of Things (IoT) are driving further demand for wireless network capacity and broadband speed.

From a digital economy perspective, the availability of fast wireless services is important to stimulate the development of innovative technologies and services that will drive growth in the EU economy and drive further Internet use while bridging the digital divide. Some of the studies highlighted below in this key source suggest that countries can accelerate economic growth and productivity by increasing mobile broadband Internet adoption and usage. It has been estimated that a 10% rise in 3G penetration increases GDP per capita growth by 0.15 percentage points. Another report demonstrates that mobile services generate the greatest economic value of eight major applications of spectrum: It estimates that the economic value of spectrum used for mobile could reach € 477 billion by 2023. Other report highlights the economic importance of the mobile applications to jobs creation, as they contributed to roughly 466,000 jobs in the United States in 2011.

Given the traffic demand and forecast already mentioned, it is unlikely that mobile operators could support it in their current 2G/3G networks due to technological restraints. To support the mobile data growth and demand, policy makers reckon that there should be a considerable augmentation in mobile broadband networks: this could be achieved through different means, including 4G with Long Term Evolution (LTE), and a greater coordinated use of the spectrum. However figures from the European Commission (EC) show that much improvement is still needed, as three out of every four people living in the EU cannot access 4G/LTE mobile connections in their hometowns, and virtually no rural area has 4G. Whereas in the United States over 90% of people have 4G access.

To improve the situation, the  (EC) has included in its Telecoms Single Market Regulation proposal  (COM(2013) 627) among other proposals to harmonise spectrum allocation, to support further  ultra-fast broadband deployment and to facilitate Wi-Fi network deployment and usage. These were also highlighted in a recent European Parliament resolution (2013/2080(INI)) and in the recent European Council conclusions from the meeting on 24 and 25 October 2013.  See also our recent briefing Towards a European Single market for Telecoms.


Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent – COM(2013) 627

Promoting the shared use of radio spectrum resources in the internal market COM/2012/0478 final

Digital Agenda: Commission moves to foster wireless innovation through sharing of radio spectrum European Commission – IP/12/929 03/09/2012

Proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the first radio spectrum policy programme:COM(2010)471.

Commission implementing decision C(2012) 7697:’…This Commission Decision paves the way for 4G in Europe: the EC decided to add another 120 MHz to the radio spectrum portfolio for 4G technologies, such as LTE (Long Term Evolution), around the 2 GHz band. The Decision makes it mandatory for Member States to open the relevant spectrum by 30 June 2014 at the latest, and lays down harmonised technical conditions to allow coexistence between different technologies. On this basis the EU will enjoy up to twice the amount of spectrum for high speed wireless broadband as in the USA, around 1000 MHz…’

Radio Spectrum Policy document archive: This archive contains a collection of official documents on EU Radio Spectrum Policy, such as legislation in force and other official documents.


Impact assessment Connected Continent SWD (2013) 331 final: Accompanying the document Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent, and amending Directives 2002/20/EC, 2002/21/EC and 2002/22/EC and Regulations (EC) No 1211/2009 and (EU) No 531/2012

The Zettabyte Era—Trends and Analysis, 2013: this is the latest Cisco’s Visual Networking Index forecast, which projects global IP traffic to triple from 2012 to 2017. It focuses on mobile internet and its impact on Internet use.

Study on the socio-economic impact of bandwidth (SMART 2010/0033): includes both fixed and mobile broadband and many cases studies. (see link to the PDF/study at the end of that link above)

Smartphone wars: More options for fast-growing market, Pew Life Internet Project 2013: A majority of Americans (56%) now own a smartphone, up from 35% the first time this was asked in May 2011. Cell phones in general are now almost ubiquitous – 91% of adults own a cell phone.

New wireless broadband applications and devices: Understanding the impact on networks, 2012

Where the jobs are: the applications economy, Technet 2012

Connected continent? Three-quarters have no 4G access!: New figures from the EC show that three out of every four people living in the EU cannot access 4G/LTE mobile connections in their hometowns, and virtually no rural area has 4G. In the United States over 90% of people have 4G access.

The impact of 4G technology on commercial interactions, economic growth, and U.S. competitiveness, Deloitte 2011

Commission staff working document on the implementation of national broadband plans SWD(2012) 68 final/2 (see sections 4.3. Spectrum policy, and 3.1.2. Mobile networks)It summarises the current state of play in national broadband plans and good practices in the countries.

Valuing the Use of Spectrum in the EU, Plum consulting 2013: This report highlights that mobile services generate the greatest economic value of eight major applications of spectrum: It estimates that the economic value of spectrum used for mobile could reach €477 billion by 2023.

EU27 smartphone tariff competitiveness report ,rewheel insight 14, December 2012: According to this study carried out by the company Rewheel Ltd on smartphone tariff competitiveness in EU-27, pricing in Member States that have a ‘protected’ market is up to ten times higher than in Member States with a ‘progressive’ market.

Perspectives on the value of shared spectrum access, SCF Associates, 2012: this study conducted for the EC shows that finding additional shared spectrum resources for wireless broadband could create significant net economic benefits for the EU. With an increase of between 200 to 400 MHz in shared access spectrum for wireless broadband, the scenarios evaluated in the study show a net increase in the value to the European economy of the order of several hundred billion Euros by 2020

Measuring the Internet Economy, OECD, 2013.

Deloitte, GSMA and Cisco (2012), What is the impact of mobile telephony on economic growth?


Digital Agenda scoreboard (for the latest EU broadband statistics): A very relevant yearly scoreboard analysis on the progress made in the different pillars of the Digital Agenda: pillar 4 focus is on deploying broadband Internet in Europe by 2020, including ultra fast broadband.

State of the Telecom sector in Europe, EC, 2013: This concise policy analysis document is part of the section 1 of the digital agenda scoreboard 2013

The mobile use of the Internet, EC, 2013: This policy analysis document (section 4 of the digital agenda scoreboard 2013) looks at progress in access and use of mobile Internet.

OECD broadband statistics update, 2013: ‘…Wireless broadband increased by 13.8% year-on-year and reached a penetration of 62.75 lines per 100 inhabitants, up from 58.6 in June 2012. The total number of wireless broadband subscriptions in the OECD area is just above 780 million. Finland (106.5), Sweden (104.8), Australia (103.4) and Korea (103.0) have over one subscriber per capita. ..’. Data and charts for the latest broadband statistics (December 2012 ) are available here. (including historical series).

The World in 2013: ICT Facts and Figures: The report includes 2013 estimates for ITU’s key telecommunication/ICT indicators. It highlights the latest global ICT trends and includes, among others, figures on fixed and mobile broadband subscriptions and prices.

Broadband statistics update: Over 780 million mobile broadband subscriptions in the OECD area, OECD, July 2013

European Parliament documents

Implementation Report on the regulatory framework for electronic communications 2013/2080(INI)T7-0454/2013 (test adopted by EP first/single reading)

Committee ITRE/7/13786 report: European single market for electronic communications, 2013/0309(COD). (Awaiting committee decision)

Entertainment x.0 to Boost Broadband Deployment, WIK, TNO and RAND 2013: EP study from DGIPOL policy department A, (IP/A/ITRE/ST/2012): this document explores and analyses available broadband data in order provide a picture of the broadband deployment, adoption, and usage situation in the EU from a number of different policy perspectives.

Ubiquitous Developments of the Digital Single Market, WIK, TNO and RAND 2013: EP study from DGIPOL policy department A (IP/A/IMCO/ST/2013): The study evaluates the use of advanced ubiquitous services to provide e-government and commercial services in EU Member States and in other parts of the world.

State of the art mobile internet connectivity and its impact on ecommerce, policy department A/IMCO/NT/2012: This briefing note considers whether the high price of mobile data roaming inhibits the use of mobile applications; the degree to which the 2012 Roaming Regulation addresses these concerns; and what further measures if any should be taken.

European Parliamentary Research Service Briefing: Towards a European Single market for Telecoms, November 2013. 

EP questions: E-000434-13E-009771/2013E-004534/2012E-008027/2011E-7750/2010E-009768/2013E-005426/2012E-005879/2012

Council documents

European council conclusions from the digital summit 24-25/10

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