Europe lags behind in the global 4G race, concluded EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes this week, in a press release issued by the EU. Three out of every four people living in the EU can’t access LTE mobile connections in their hometowns, and virtually no rural areas have 4G coverage, she observes.
That’s different to the US, where over 90 per cent of people have access to 4G. The low 4G coverage in Europe is down to several things, says Kroes. Almost every European country is dealing with complex spectrum licensing issues, resulting in fragmentation across the 28 national markets. The result is that mobile operators have no little possibility to develop an EU-wide mobile strategy.
And it gets worse, said Kroes. “Auctioning processes have left mobile operators with little cash to roll-out networks once they have secured the right to do so.” According to the EU, only Germany, Estonia and Sweden have advanced 4G roll-out. There are even three EU member states where there is no 4G at all (Cyprus, Ireland, Malta).
Kroes also warns for a possible collapse of mobile networks. “Global mobile traffic is predicted to grow 66 per cent a year, smart devices are everywhere and people want to watch video on those devices. Without more spectrum being made available the whole thing falls apart.”
The end result is that customers are left frustrated, Kroes said. “It doesn’t matter where you are, you pay money for a device and mobile subscription and it should work. It’s frustrating when my phone stops working in Brussels because we only have 3G. Millions share my frustration every day.”
Also the prices for 4G vary very much and can be 50 times higher in one EU country compared to another EU country. That’s not a sign of a healthy market, thinks the EU Commissioner.
A multi-billion spectrum auction may seem attractive for EU countries, but those high prices will hurt economies, she warns. Companies are left with little money for network upgrades and because of the delay in upgrading networks the amount of tax that governments are hoping to receive will be delayed as well. That could also weaken the financial position of the telecom companies.
The EU is aiming for a far greater coordination of spectrum licensing. This would enable operators to enjoy the economies of scale that would come from rolling out 4G in the same spectrum band across several countries at once, and that would mean consumers get more 4G access sooner.
This post is by Edwin Feldmann, a Dutch journalist, with a focus on telecoms and LTE. Edwin has been an online ICT editor for NU.nl, the largest news site in the Netherlands, worked for tech publisher IDG and various Dutch publications in print and online, such as Automatiseringgids, PCM, Winmag Pro, TBM, CBM and ISPam.nl. In 2011 he also started his own news site (glasvezelgids.nl) about fibre to the home in the Netherlands.