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EC facilitates use of mobile phones on ships

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The European Commission has adopted new rules to make it easier for passengers and crews on ships to make mobile phone calls, and to send and receive text messages, whilst in European waters. The new rules harmonise the technical and legal conditions for on-board communication services and aim at bringing new legal certainty and economic opportunities for service providers who want to offer seamless maritime mobile connectivity across borders.

The Commission has just adopted a draft Decision which guarantees the availability of 900 MHz and/or 1800 MHz GSM radio frequencies for on-board communication services under harmonised technical and operational conditions. At the same time, the Commission has also adopted a draft Recommendation that EU countries liberalise their authorisation regimes in a way that any on-board services operator authorised in one country can provide services in the territorial waters of other EU countries without the need for further licences.

The continuous maritime connectivity will also enable the real-time monitoring of transported goods thanks to remote sensors. For instance, a container’s temperature and humidity can be monitored from a distance so that the quality of merchandises stored on ships can be controlled at any time.

EU Member States have twelve months to make room for mobile communication services on ships in the radio spectrum bands concerned and to adjust their national laws to comply with the Decision. Member States should also make sure that consumers are adequately informed about the terms and conditions for the use of mobile communication services on ships.

Mobile communication services on-board vessels (MCV services) are cross-border telecoms services. Up to now they have been available in Europe only to a limited extent and usually beyond the territorial waters of Member States, in international waters. A major concern for the industry providing MCV systems and services has been that current regulatory regimes diverge between EU Member States both in terms of technical and operational conditions for the use of radio spectrum and with respect to the types of authorisations, especially when it comes to provision of MCV services within Member States' territorial waters.

In April 2008, the Commission adopted a set of harmonised rules (Decision and Recommendation) on mobile communication services on aircraft (MCA) to support the needs of mobile users travelling aboard aircraft.

Commission Decision on harmonised conditions of use of radio spectrum for mobile communication services on board vessels (MCV services) (Draft)

Commission Recommendation on the authorisation of systems for mobile communication services on board vessels (MCV services) (Draft)

Use of mobile phones on ships in 
European waters - briefing

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