Cross-border negotiations are a critical element of spectrum planning, minimising potential interference between services.
In 2011, a number of cross-border agreements were negotiated, spanning Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia. The European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) and the Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications (RCC) played a crucial role. The CEPT-RCC framework agreement looked at the compatibility between mobile services and the Aeronautical Radio Navigation Services (ARNS). It was a set of agreed issues that administrations could use as a starting point for bilateral agreements with neighbouring administrations. Through agreed coordination distances and ARNS thresholds, agreements were easier to reach.
Hungary became the first European country to take advantage of the CEPT-RCC framework agreement and signed an ARNS coordination agreement with Ukraine in July 2011. Under the agreement, mobile phone base stations can be situated up to 20km from the Ukrainian border. After finishing further compatibility tests, this limit may decrease to 10 km from the border.
In August 2011, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia agreed to a 2013 deadline for 790–862MHz to be used in the border areas, and signed a memorandum of understanding on roaming tariffs. Later that month, a coordination agreement was also signed by Russia and Finland.
These positive steps were enhanced in Warsaw in October 2011 through an agreement between the 25 EU member states and ten neighbouring countries. The signatories agreed to: “make efforts to conclude mutual cross-border coordination agreements in order to assure that use of the radio spectrum for defence and national security purposes will not be harmed by or affect the development of radio services in neighbouring countries.”
There are a number of examples of multilateral discussion forums within the European Union. The Western European Digital Dividend Implementation Platform (WEDDIP) includes representation from Belgium, Germany, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. The North-Eastern Digital Dividend Implementation Forum (NEDDIF) consists of representatives from the Latvian, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Lithuanian, German, Slovak, Hungarian and Polish national regulators. Its chairman is an elected representative of the Polish Regulator. The primary objective of NEDDIF is to develop a common approach to the use of the Digital Dividend, as well as to exchange experiences and information among the members.
NEDDIF seeks in particular to achieve greater radio spectrum compatibility between individual countries, using the principle of equal access to frequency resources. The most pressing current problem is the compatibility of future broadband systems (ECS) and ARNS. The Polish government has launched a campaign whose main purpose is to change the current restrictive conditions for the coexistence of these systems
Cross-border frequency coordination is a challenge all markets. It is central to the World Radiocommunication Conference and the Radio Regulations, and also requires regional coordination. Spectrum decisions are national, but require coordination with neighbouring countries. Regional harmonisation of spectrum use greatly simplifies this coordination effort.
In the European Union, the European Council agreed a common position on a European Parliament and Council decision establishing the first multi-annual Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) on 13 December 2011. The aim of the programme is to set out policy orientations and objectives for the strategic planning, part of the RSPP is a proposal to harmonise the release of the Digital Dividend by 1 January 2013 across the EU. An earlier draft of the RSPP offered the following possibility for derogations from the 2013 deadline:
“Only in exceptional cases duly justified for technical and historical reasons, the Commission may authorise specific derogations until the end of 2015 in response to a duly motivated application from the Member State concerned. If cross-border frequency coordination problems with one or more third countries further prevent the availability of the band, the Commission may authorise exceptional annual derogations until such obstacles are removed.” The European Commission will assess by January 2015 the need for additional frequency bands suitable for electronic communication services.
In the Americas, CITEL Resolution 30 (PCC.II/REC. 30 (XVIII-11)), states that "CITEL Administrations that plan to use the 698–806MHz band for broadband mobile services, consider for such segment the adoption of one of the channelling options specified in the Draft Revision of ITU-R Recommendation M.1036-3, including the related notes, adopted in the framework of Study Group 5.” This resolution harmonises the options for the Digital Dividend band plans to either the APT band plan or the US band plan. Border coordination discussions have started between the US and Mexico, with Mexico preferring the more spectrally efficient APT plan to the established US band plan.
Harmonisation and coordination issues are also critical in Asia. At WRC-07, unlike Region 1 that adopted 790–862MHz as the Digital Dividend band or Region 2 that adopted 698–806MHz, Region 3 (Asia) had a large number of markets out of the 790–862MHz allocation by identifying 698–806MHz as the preferred band. Subsequent to WRC-07, the APT voted at the AWF meeting in Seoul, Korea, in September 2010, to allocate 2x45MHz of FDD spectrum as its Digital Dividend, using the same spectrum at 698–806MHz. The APT band plan is now the preferred option, not only in Asia but also increasingly in the Americas.
The benefits of regional harmonisation for Asia have been highlighted in the GSMA’s BCG report included in section 7.2. Challenges do, however, remain, particularly for markets that originally identified 790–862MHz as their preferred band. The experience from Europe following WRC-07, where a number of markets replanned and redeployed digital television allocations to realise harmonization benefits and to minimise border coordination issues, is that alignment to the regional consensus delivers benefits not only to neighbours but also to the early movers, which incur the costs of change.