Finland is internationally known as a pioneer in mobile networks and technologies. The latest proof of this is the significant recognition awarded in the Mobile World Congress on 26 February to Finland for its advanced communications policy.
In the reasons for the award, both our advanced spectrum policy and the Finnish Act on Transport Services that identifies data as an inseparable part of the transport system were praised.
Inspired by the award, it is a good time to consider why the Finnish spectrum policy is regarded advanced and what the lessons are that others could learn from us. Why the amount of data in the mobile networks of Finland, a country with a small and sparse population and with networks that cover nearly the entire population, is the highest per user in the world?
Decisive factors are competitive markets and abundant and fast availability of spectrum. Further “magic words” are technological neutrality, good cooperation and active dialogue between the sector and the spectrum authorities as well as among the authorities. Warm greetings to the spectrum administration of the Transport and Communications Agency, Traficom!
In Finland, the communications markets were opened to competition already at the end of the 1980s. Competition between the three nationwide telecom operators has kept the consumer prices low and created innovative business models.
A majority of the wireless subscriptions sold include unlimited internet access: with a monthly fee you get unlimited data access. That is one explanation to the big amount of data in the mobile networks of a country with five million people. One premise in spectrum policy has been that the market would continue to provide broadband networks of several different companies.
In Finland, the fuel for mobile networks has always been taken into use very quickly after the decisions on international radio spectrum harmonisation have been made, or even before that. There is not enough spectrum bands, especially the most desired ones, for all. That is why the decisions on the allocation of the most important frequencies: to whom, how and on what terms, are made by the Government.
Spectrum has been allocated to wireless broadband without charge or at a reasonable price without fiscal goals, and in relation to the population more than elsewhere in Europe. This has enabled investments and networks that are nearly free of congestion. And almost without exception, the telecom operators have built their networks even faster than required in the licence terms.
In Finland, it is easy to gather the representatives of the sector around the same table. This has, for its part, made the preparation of the matters easier. In Finland, the situation is very exceptional in that both the telecom operators and the conventional television sector have identified the changes that have taken place in people’s viewing habits and how they will affect the spectrum policy. That is why we have transferred spectrum from antenna television networks to the use of wireless broadband, which has served the needs of both sectors. Finland has been able to adopt these solutions several years earlier than other European countries.
We have also been able to make bold openings on international arenas. Ten, or even just a few years ago, our idea to allocate television spectrum in parallel also to broadband use did not take off elsewhere in Europe. In the history of telecommunications policy, Finland has often been ahead of its time and sooner or later, often later, others have followed with similar solutions.
In preparing regulation from the EU, it has been possible to cooperate and find common solutions for the best of the Finnish communications market, despite the competition between the companies. And this is not just because of the small size of the Finnish communications market or the fact that so many people in the sector know each other but about the good and uniform operating culture and desire to develop the market to the right direction.
Often conflicts between the different needs to use the spectrum are seen in places where in reality there are none. In Finland, friction between the different needs has been relieved by reconciling them together. Reserving the wireless broadband network for one purpose only is not necessary and certainly not efficient in terms of spectrum or costs. That is why the Finnish authorities will in future operate in commercial broadband networks and the special characteristics of the operation will be ensured by prioritising the data traffic, for example. This Finnish solution is advanced and we were among the first in the world to reach it.
In the rapidly developing markets, no single technology can be favoured by regulation. For example in autonomous transport, general purpose technologies, like 5G, should be promoted instead of single standards.
It is the common aim of the authorities and the entire sector to make Finland the leading country in 5G. The first 5G spectrum bands were introduced already in the beginning of this year. For years, the spectrum has also been allocated to various testing and R&D use. The Finnish test networks are used for experimenting new products and business models.
The authorities do also more than just allocate spectrum. They have their own experimental project on 5G technology, 5G Momentum, that aims at cooperation across sectors in order to develop the services. Finland is a suitable environment for experimenting, for example, smart and automated transport on land, sea and air.
In Finland, it has been the aim of the authorities to adopt the role of an enabler. That is the way to carry out advanced spectrum policy that deserves the recognition it has been awarded.
The author is Senior Ministerial Adviser at the Ministry’s Networks Regulation Unit.