Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me welcome you all today and thank you for joining us on this occasion. I hope that we will be able to have a useful exchange on radio spectrum policies in Europe and related challenges for policy makers in the European Union, such as myself.

I do not need to tell anyone in the room today how important the efficient use of the radio spectrum is for the connected world that we live in today and even more so in the future. Spectrum is increasingly the life blood of a mobile and wireless environment that underpins many of the more exciting developments we are enjoying already.

Wireless broadband applications and services are key facilitators for future economic growth and social development. That is why spectrum policies must be at the heart of the Commission's initiatives to achieve the vision of a Digital Union.

I am particularly pleased to announce that yesterday the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal on the future use of UHF spectrum, including access to the 700 Mega Hertz (MHz) band for mobile use by 2020.

With this proposal, the Commission addresses the demands for spectrum from both mobile and broadcasting services. It is clear that we cannot have a high-quality mobile internet for everything and for everyone, everywhere, unless we have modern infrastructure and modern rules. With this proposal we show that it is indeed possible to have spectrum both for a vibrant audio-visual sector and for the important timely deployment of 5G, in particular in new promising fields like connected driving.

The proposal safeguards the spectrum band most appropriate for the mass transmission of audio-visual services, thus ensuring that EU citizens enjoy continued access to creative content using state-of-the-art digital technologies. 

To meet the 2020 deadline for assigning this band to wireless broadband, Member States will need, by 30th June 2017, to adopt and make public their national plans on network coverage and measures facilitating the release of the 700 MHz band.

They will also need to conclude cross-border coordination agreements by the end of 2017. Such plans will smoothen the transition, minimise cross-border interference during the transition and ensure good network coverage. This will help bridge the digital divide and create the necessary coverage conditions for connected driving on time.

 

This proposal is, I believe, a significant steps as we seek to define a coherent spectrum approach for the EU in the coming years. The UHF proposal is not however sufficient to address all of the challenges we face.

Today we are looking forward to a Europe where as many as 30 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. Many, perhaps the majority of them, will be connected wirelessly to help cut costs and increase productivity in all sectors.  The future proliferation of wireless applications for the Internet of Things, connected cars and the development of 5G technologies and services will no doubt significantly add to the challenges for policy makers responsible for spectrum.

Of course, such challenges are not new for Europe. Many of the uses that ingenious human minds have found for radio spectrum over the last hundred years have originated in Europe, whether for radio, television, satellite or mobile telephony. We have been at the forefront of technological innovation and this has meant that Europe has also had to lead on policy development and regulation. This is even more true today, as the pace of change increases.

I want Europe to be at the forefront of a successful 5G development. Our telecom rules must be fit for this future and to ensure that the high capacity networks that will meet the future connectivity needs of citizens and businesses are rapidly deployed.

The European market is one of the richest and most developed in the world. The potential economies of scale provided by a Digital Single Market have been well demonstrated; also the role that digital technologies need to play in the future growth of the overall European economy.

When it comes to allocation and technical harmonisation of spectrum, Europe has coordinated successfully through a combination of regulatory and harmonisation measures which have brought benefits in terms of economies of scale.

But the world of communications continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace. We need to ensure that processes and instruments we use to regulate this market also evolve in real time if we are to optimise the benefits for all of technological innovation.

The reality is however that the national borders that are the legacy of Napoleon, Versailles, Yalta and Potsdam are and should be irrelevant in a Digital Union. Many of the objects and vehicles that will be wirelessly connected will travel across national borders and need to connect regardless of where they are, in the spectrum bands for which they are designed and equipped.

This puts a responsibility on policy makers and regulators in the EU, including myself, to commit to an ambitious roadmap that can accelerate the development of a Digital Union and eliminate any damaging national silos.

A good example is 5G. The next generation of telecommunications networks is expected to build on full coverage, high-quality wireless connectivity to enable both super-fast broadband and the "Internet of things". 5G services will partly evolve from 4G developments but we expect them to proliferate on the basis of transport, health care, energy or industrial production a new ecosystem which increasingly offers services to non-telecom sectors.

The convergence of networks - both fixed and wireless - and services, both voice and data, are key trends, with the first 5G deployments world-wide expected from 2020 onwards.

The variety of 5G digital services offered through a heterogeneous 5G network architecture will however impose new challenges on spectrum availability and use, such as the need for high data speeds delivered to many people simultaneously, including in remote areas. The good news is that we are approaching the existing target for wireless broadband of 1200 MHz with the repurposing of the 700 MHz band. This is an important interim step to satisfy in part the future 5G spectrum needs.

However, future needs for 5G require even more spectrum and further EU harmonisation of high-frequency spectrum above 6 GHz (Giga Hertz) by 2020.

This is why, within the DSM strategy and in particular the review of the telecoms framework, the scope and the effectiveness of EU-level spectrum management are undergoing a fundamental re-assessment with the objective to make EU legislation "5G-ready".

The versatile and disruptive nature of 5G necessitates a coordinated approach to spectrum management.

This is particular relevant when it comes to the timing of spectrum assignment and the renewal conditions, where operators demand greater clarity and certainty. Some pro-competitive measures in spectrum assignments, such as spectrum caps or new entrant reservation, which are likely to have a significant impact on markets structure, would benefit from greater consistency from regulators at national and EU level. The shared objective should be to ensure similar competitive conditions for all operators within an EU home market for 5G services. Moreover a common approach with regard to licensing conditions that ensure 5G wireless coverage and safeguard return on investments are also key for the success of 5G.

Finally, the new features of 5G use cases and services will no doubt require adaptation of the individual licensing models. Common rules on tradability and sharing could contribute to a flexible and efficient use of spectrum to support business innovation and adaptability to the evolving 5G ecosystem.

Of course EU spectrum policies will need to reflect the heterogeneous nature of the geography and populations of Europe. And the principle of subsidiarity applies also here. This means that only where the public policy goals cannot efficiently be realised through action at national level, should we act at EU level.

The costs of non-Europe in terms of investment are serious. Many European citizens, especially in rural areas, are deprived of access to wireless broadband services. While 79% of Europeans can access 4G, this figure drops to just 25% in rural areas.

We therefore need to create a more Europeanised spectrum framework which makes it easier to scale up and get access to a 500 million consumer market.

The Commission will therefore explore options to improve consistency in assignment conditions and governance structures, ways to better share spectrum and networks, and to achieve more local and more intensive exploitation of spectrum capacity.

The key outcomes of our public consultation on the review of Telecoms Regulation regarding spectrum, are

- A clear call for more consistency in spectrum management across Europe is needed, not least in spectrum assignment processes.

- Major telecom operators, both fixed and mobile, are of the view that EU level coordination should focus on key parameters such as renewals, timing, license duration and rules on spectrum trading.

- There are mixed views on spectrum assignment with some wanting to avoid assignment being used to structure the market, while others want the needs of new market entrants accommodated. There is a general call for greater consistency in this area.

- There is general support for the idea of a peer review mechanism in the Radio Spectrum Policy Group.

- And we have also just received the valuable contribution from our spectrum advisors, the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG).  I am pleased to see that we share the overall objective of delivering high-quality connectivity, also wireless, for EU citizens and businesses. The Chair of the Radio Spectrum Policy Group will give you some more highlights in a while.

I am pleased that we have received such substantial and useful contributions from so many stakeholders. The Commission will continue to analyse the inputs and of course also the results of the discussion today

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that I am committed to deliver on the need for spectrum reform, as called for both by President Juncker and the European Council. We know that there will be resistance along the way from some stakeholders and maybe even some Member States, but we are ready to take on the challenge. Above all, I think we have strong arguments and we should have an open discussion.

I want to be absolutely clear however that this is not about removing competences from Member States. Revenues from auctions should remain exclusively with them. It is about working together towards achieving common goals and addressing shared problems such as increased connectivity through mobile coverage and more investments.

We obviously cannot achieve this without the involvement of all stakeholders. So, I would like to challenge all of you here today to be clear about your views on the requirements for spectrum policy in Europe. You should present any relevant evidence and data to the Commission and to the Member States, and to help us identify where increased EU coordination is necessary and useful – and also where it is not.

We must be bold if we want Europe to regain its global leadership in the wireless economy. Let us act together to create a spectrum regime that can enable the digital revolution within a borderless Europe. And let us do it now.