Regulatory issues impacting 4G deployment


Europe needs a comprehensive connectivity agenda that boosts investment, creates new jobs, drives innovation and removes obstacles to the deployment of innovative technologies. The European Institutions have taken an important step, in this respect, with moves to reduce the cost of deploying high speed electronic communications networks, and simplify the conditions for the deployment. Measures to enable the rollout of small cells to enhance competition and reduce network congestion are also a positive development.

However, when it comes to the deployment of mobile technologies, in particular 4G/LTE, in certain Member States, operators are facing another regulatory challenge: extremely restrictive electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure limits without a credible scientific basis.

In Europe, exposure to electromagnetic fields is regulated (Recommendation 1999/519/EC) on the basis of the 1998 guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Even so, there are some markets in Europe that have imposed significantly lower EMF exposure limits. This has an impact on network rollout and has started to have a detrimental effect on the deployment of technology for faster mobile broadband (4G/LTE), and may negatively impact the rollout of faster broadband in other Member States.

Adoption of lower EMF exposure limits that are without a credible scientific basis is often seen as a politically attractive response to concerns expressed by some members of the community. But these measures can restrict 4G/LTE deployment in a number of ways: Reduced flexibility in network deployment; reduced coverage (particularly indoors) for consumers; reduced opportunities for site sharing; and an increase in the number of base stations needed for delivering the same level of service.

The differences in the legal frameworks concerning the EMF exposure limits between Member States undermine the EU’s efforts to create a Digital Single Market: The environmental rules governing deployment of networks differ across the EU, and, as a result, certain regions will continue to lag behind in mobile network investments, and consumers will not benefit from the full potential of digitisation.

In February 2014, the GSMA published the report “Arbitrary Radio Frequency exposure limits: Impact on 4G networks deployment”, analysing five specific cases where national/local legislations have negatively affected the rollout of faster mobile broadband: Brussels, Italy, Lithuania, Paris and Poland.

On the basis of the findings of the study, the GSMA calls on:

  • The European Commission to promote good practice by Member States through harmonization of Electromagnetic Fields/Radio Frequency (EMF/RF) exposure limit policies based on the international guidelines;
  • The Member States to follow the EC 1999 recommendation and latest SCENIHR opinion that exposure limit policies should be based on the international guidelines;
  • The European Commission and Member States to adopt evidence-based policies that enable the deployment of mobile broadband and other wireless technologies.

Read the full report here.