From the ECC Hot Seat

Successful new technologies follow a pattern of dramatic impact, and then, over time, they become routine and even a necessity. Clean water and electricity at the turn of the 19th/20th century, and perhaps air travel is an example from the late 20th century. You could say the same about the use of radio waves. Some time ago, spectrum was an enabler of revolutionary new technologies which transformed the face of society as we know it. Broadcasting, worldwide connectivity through satellite communications, and then mobile phones started as exciting novelties which then became indispensable and tightly woven into our daily lives. Each of those developments required complex and high-profile international arrangements to secure the efficient and effective use of the spectrum.

Now we just expect radiocommunications systems to work and they are no longer regarded as some sort of miracle. Consequently, attention has shifted more to radiocommunications’ impact on economic growth and social behaviour. This doesn't make our job any easier or less interesting; in fact the reverse is true. Technology improves all the time and allows us to exploit higher and higher frequencies. However, the laws of physics do not change and the frequencies which can be used for most applications are a finite resource where the demands for capacity and usability increase all the time. In effect, there are no new blank areas of spectrum, and we usually have to focus on spectrum sharing, and more flexible and evolutionary approaches.

Something else which doesn't change is the need to learn from experience. This demands that regulators anticipate how the future might evolve, whilst at the same time we have to be very cautious about relying too heavily on a single specific prediction or scenario from the self-proclaimed clairvoyants of megatrends.

The international dimension is as important as ever, with many developments needing common conditions across large market areas. I'm honoured to take the chairmanship of the ECC at such a time. We’re in good shape, and I must thank my predecessors, notably Thomas Ewers as the most recent Chairman, for leading us to this point. We have a cooperative spirit across 48 European countries and a common understanding on the strategic developments in spectrum management.

An open and cooperative approach to users and our partners is important to our strategic understanding and especially for the technical expertise which complements that which our member administrations themselves bring to our work. These areas are where the ECC makes its distinctive contribution to the fair and objective decisions needed to serve such a wide variety of important functions which rely on spectrum; whether these are voluntarily harmonised in the ECC framework across 48 countries, or bound across the EU27 in the EU framework. And, whether they have a high profile or not.

In telecommunications, policy-makers, industry and consumers expect and demand more. Our challenge is to anticipate and meet the bandwidth demands of the 21st century as they continue to increase by developing the right technical conditions and harmonisation measures for the most effective spectrum outcomes.

Our strategic focus is articulated in our strategic plan. We agreed it in 2010, so the time will soon be right to look at it again, and particularly to take stock of where we are with our ‘major challenges for the next five years’. But our workplan is constantly updated to respond to the demands from industry and stakeholders; one example where we are keen to take a strategic and technically-informed position is in the use of the UHF spectrum between 470 and 790 MHz. With a lot of comment and pressure on this band, talk of a further ‘digital dividend’ and concerns over a ‘salami-slicing’ approach to its evolution, we feel it is right to take a look at the issue through a longer lens. We expect to start a programme of study after our next ECC meeting in June.

By increasing flexibility in spectrum use, implementing regulatory solutions to share spectrum, and developing less restrictive technical conditions where possible, we're well on the way to delivering on many of our policy goals.

As well as our spectrum priorities, we are very active in numbering too. Traditional phone networks are relatively stable but the internet, IP networks and machine to machine communications bring a whole new set of issues. Numbering is a subject where I expect the ECC’s expertise to make a difference to how effective and well managed the associated services will be. For example the ECC’s Green Paper is a major contribution to the strategic understanding of this important but easily overlooked aspect of the Information Society. I look forward to giving this area of work my full attention in my Chairmanship.

But as I set out to illustrate in the introduction, technology is forever changing and the challenge for us is to continue to smooth the way for future development and innovation. As a society, we're becoming more interactive, mobile, connected and global and our dependence on intelligent devices has become a 21st century necessity. Maintaining a strong and reliable regulatory environment within a well-established collaborative structure for harmonisation ensures we keep moving in the right direction.

I look forward to working with our numerous partners across industry and user communities. Our close cooperation and complementary position with the European Commission is also vitally important to us, with 27 of our 48 members also being EU Member States. And I would like to congratulate Pearse O’Donohue, erstwhile Head of the CNECT’s Radio Spectrum Policy Unit, on his appointment as Deputy Head of Cabinet to EC Vice-President Neelie Kroes. I believe our working relationship has matured and strengthened in recent years, and ultimately this benefits consumers. I look forward to working with Pearse, and his successor at the Head of the Spectrum Policy Unit, in the coming few years.

I believe strongly in the consensus model which is fundamental to the ECC’s way of working. This gives a strength to the end result. And in those cases where we are supporting initiatives in the EU framework, it makes that process much smoother and helps the Commission and the member states – which are all ECC members - to work in the same direction.

I hope I have managed to convey my sense of purpose for what lies ahead and I look forward to engaging with as many of you as possible on these important issues. As the cornerstone of spectrum harmonisation in Europe, we are aiming to maintain and increase our visibility to the outside world. This will help us with ensuring strategic debate within the ECC on the most important spectrum issues at stake for the next few years.

Eric Fournier
Chairman of the ECC

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