France to auction 4G frequencies in 1H11; predicts 99% coverage by 2025

6 Dec 2010

The auction of so-called ‘4G’ wireless frequencies in France is expected to be completed in the first half of 2011, although key details such as the price and licensing terms are still to be finalised. Reuters quotes French industry minister Eric Besson as saying that the issue of pricing was still being debated, but that the government is hoping to raise EUR2 billion (USD2.7 billion) from the process. ‘We are relatively confident,’ Besson told Reuters, adding: ‘These frequencies are of very, very high quality.’

The country’s incumbent operators France Telecom (Orange), SFR and Bouygues Telecom, and new entrant Iliad are likely to be interested in the frequencies, although all four are waiting to discover the precise terms and conditions of the government’s sale. Indeed, several operators have voiced concerns over the regulator Arcep’s proposals to compel 4G spectrum winners to provide extensive coverage of rural areas – regions they argue do not require such high speed coverage. They are also lobbying government to keep to a minimum the reserve fee for the spectrum, mindful that they were all adversely impacted by the high cost of 3G mobile frequencies.

Besson says Arcep will hand over its proposals to the government soon, prior to the anticipated call for bids in January/February 2011. ‘The frequencies will be sold in four lots: two of 10MHz and two of 5MHz,’ Besson said. It is thought that Arcep is keen to license spectrum in the 800MHz and 2600MHz bands for the deployment of ultra-high speed mobile networks. To help stakeholders to prepare the groundwork for the new networks, the watchdog is also issuing temporary permits in specific locations to allow cellcos to conduct field trials of 4G technologies (i.e. LTE/WiMAX). To date, between 20 and 30 trials in the 2600MHz band are understood to have been granted, while the first temporary authorisation for a trial in the 800MHz band was issued on 16 November 2010, with more expected to follow.

The French government is hoping to have 99% of the population covered by fourth-generation mobile phone technology by 2025, Besson said. ‘We will demand an ambitious, demanding rate. We are going to ask that within 15 years, 99% of the French population be covered by at least two network operations.’

France, Arcep