The rollout of 4G wireless data connectivity in Europe took a step forward today as the European Parliament approved plans to free up radio spectrum for this and other uses.

While US consumers have seen 4G connectivity start to roll out over the past couple of years, it’s so far eluded Europe. The Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP) is designed to ensure that sufficient amounts of spectrum are available in the EU to achieve what’s hoped will be the fastest mobile broadband speeds in the world.

The Programme includes a ruling that by 1 January 2013, EU member states will have to authorise the use of the 800 MHz band, currently used for remaining analogue TV transmissions, for wireless broadband, unless they can obtain an exemption by that date. This band is seen as particularly useful for transmitting data due to its ability to travel long distances without losing strength, and to penetrate buildings well. The digital TV switchover is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2012.

A range of other bands are also included in the programme, which also aims to free up radio spectrum for use by mobile TV and wireless electronic books, transport systems, health (medical appliances and devices to assist disabled persons), research, civil protection, the environment and energy (including smart energy grids and smart metering systems).

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes has welcomed the news, saying that the RSPP “will help reduce the digital divide, make Europe a connected and competitive continent and introduce more wireless broadband choices.”

Individual members states will still be responsible for handling 4G rollouts in their individual countries, but today’s news helps standardise efforts across the EU, which will make EU-wide 4G roaming easier, and keeps plans for adoption of the technology moving forward.