European Union telecom ministers backed proposals on Thursday to open radio frequencies allocated exclusively for GSM mobile phone services to other technologies, such as third-generation (3G) mobile data.
The European Commission had in July proposed freeing access to the 900MHz frequency, saying that doing so would make it easier and cheaper for mobile operators in the 27-nation bloc to offer wireless services.
The mobile phone industry has been pushing for regulators to open the airwaves.
A 3G network in the 900MHz band would achieve up to 40 percent greater coverage than one in the 2.1GHz band for the same capital expenditure, the GSM Association (GSMA), the global trade body for the mobile industry, said earlier this year.
The GSMA estimates an additional 300 million people across Asia, Europe and Africa would have access to mobile broadband services by 2012 if mobile operators could use a 900MHz frequency spectrum for 3G services.
The proposal now needs to be approved by the European Parliament before ministers give their final green light.
The final decision would abolish a 20-year-old EU legislation.
Finnish telecom operator Elisa opened earlier this month its 3G mobile services commercially in the 900MHz radio frequencies, saying it was the first operator in the world to do this.
Elisa’s Chief Executive Veli-Matti Mattila said the lower spectrum cuts network build-out costs by up to one third.