BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU member states approved plans on Thursday to coordinate the roll-out of a key spectrum across the 28-nation bloc to provide faster mobile broadband speeds and improve access to Internet services, including in remote areas.
The proposal foresees the rollout of the 700 MHz band for wireless broadband services by June 30, 2020. Member states can delay that by up to two years if they have legitimate reasons, such as unresolved coordination issues with neighboring non-EU countries or if they need more time to reallocate the spectrum from broadcasting services.
The 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) can penetrate buildings and walls easily and cover larger geographic areas with less infrastructure, compared with frequencies in higher bands.
"With the opening of the 700 MHz band for mobile broadband an important step towards the availability of broadband for everybody in the EU has been taken," said Henk Kamp, minister for Economic Affairs in the Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU presidency and steered the proposal.
The European Parliament will have to approve the proposal before it can become law.
The 470-790 MHz range is currently widely used for digital television signals and wireless microphones - for example in theaters, concerts and sporting events.
Broadcasting services, which had expressed concern at the original proposal because of the costly changes needed to move to another band, would keep priority in the sub-700 MHz band at least until 2030.
Only France and Germany have allowed the use of this spectrum for mobile services, while Britain, Denmark, Finland and Sweden plan to do the same in the coming years.
Mobile operators industry group GSMA, which represents Vodafone, Telefonica and Orange, welcomed the proposal but urged member states to stick to 2020 as the "ultimate milestone in the shift to mobile for the 700 MHz band".
"Without this commitment, Europe is at risk of falling behind other regions in mobile broadband development," GSMA Chief Regulatory Officer John Giusti said.
The European Commission, which presented the proposal earlier this year, hopes coordinated allocation of the frequency will promote the take up of 4G - the current standard for mobile broadband - and make it easier to move to the next generation technology, 5G, when it becomes available.
Innovative services such as driverless cars, remote healthcare and connecting billions of everyday objects to the Internet will require 5G coverage.
Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Susan Thomas