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Wireless broadband on GSM frequencies - briefing

20 October 2009
by eub2 -- last modified 20 October 2009

The path has been cleared for a new generation of mobile services in Europe with the publication in the EU's Official Journal of new measures that allow 3G phones to use GSM frequencies. This follows the European Parliament and Council of Ministers' agreement, in July, to modernise European legislation – the GSM Directive – on the use of the radio spectrum needed for mobile services. The new EU measures will foster stronger competition on Europe's telecoms market and make it easier for operators to provide faster, pan-European services such as mobile internet alongside today's GSM services. They will also boost the roll-out of wireless broadband services, one of the drivers of the EU's economic recovery.


The new EU rules form part of the European Commission efforts to offer more spectrum opportunities for wireless communications. The measures published today open the "GSM" radio spectrum band to more advanced wireless communication devices. A new Decision and a Directive modernising the   1987 GSM Directive  , have been printed in the EU's Official Journal, becoming EU law and must now be applied in all 27 EU countries.

The new rules also make it easier to adapt spectrum allocation in the 900 MHz frequency band to allow even newer 4th generation high-speed broadband technologies to be deployed. Consumers' existing handsets will continue to work without problems, but they can also use new technologies to access high-speed broadband services.

The reformed rules are expected to have a positive economic effect on the sector and promote the take-up of new wireless services, thanks to reductions in network costs resulting from the use of lower frequency bands.

The new Commission Decision sets out the technical parameters allowing for the co-existence of GSM (2G mobile phones) and UMTS systems (3G phones that add high-speed mobile internet to regular phone services) on GSM 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequencies in line with the Directive. This Decision is based on the EU's Radio Spectrum Decision that sets up a mechanism for the adoption of technical harmonisation rules based on input received from national radio frequency experts.

National administrations have now six months to transpose the Directive and to implement the Decision so that the GSM spectrum bands are effectively made available for 3G. When opening up the existing GSM licences, national regulators will have to examine competition between mobile operators and address distortions of competition if any, in accordance with the EU's telecoms rules . The Decision foresees the possibility of amendments to include technical usage parameters for further non GSM systems for which compatibility may be established at a later stage.


The GSM Directive of 1987 reserved the use of part of the 900MHz spectrum band to GSM (Global System for Mobile or originally Groupe Spécial Mobile) access technologies such as mobile phones. However, the Directive needed to be updated to allow more advanced, next generation wireless technologies to also use this band of the radio spectrum.

In November 2008, the European Commission proposed to share the airwaves allocated to mobile phones with other more advanced technologies, starting with 3G mobile broadband technology (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, UMTS). The proposal was approved by the European Parliament in May 2009 with 578 votes and by the Council of Ministers in July 2009. The updated Directive 2009/114/EC has been signed by the Presidents of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in September. It is published together with the Commission Decision in the EU's Official Journal today.

In her speech "Digital Europe - Europe's Fast Track to Economic Recovery" of 9 July, Viviane Reding, EU Telecoms Commissioner had presented a "Digital Agenda for Europe" which included, as one of the first actions, a swift agreement on the reform of the GSM Directive.

Commission radio spectrum policy

Directive 2009/114/EC of 16 September 2009 amending Council Directive 87/372/EC

Decision 2009/766/EC of 16 October 2009

Source: European Commission

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