Free requests more time for LTE auction, paper says

12 Apr 2011

French broadband operator and ISP Iliad (Free) has written to the country’s industry and digital economy minister, Eric Besson, asking him to ensure the government and the telecoms regulator Arcep allocate 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) spectrum to all four cellcos – including Free Mobile, which is due to launch in 2012. Les Echos writes that Free’s founder Xavier Niel sees ‘no urgency in attributing the spectrum’, given that so much needs to be resolved regarding various technical issues associated with the plan. Furthermore, Mr Niel is asking Arcep to scale back its 4G coverage targets and make network sharing an obligation in less heavily populated areas. Niel is also calling on Arcep to launch another public consultation on the draft proposals, rather than hastily finalising its plans with undue urgency. The regulator hopes to launch the LTE auction in May.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database writes that in December 2010 Arcep announced that the auction of 4G wireless frequencies would be completed in the first half of 2011, although key details such as the price and licensing terms were still to be finalised. At the time Besson was quoted 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. France Telecom (Orange), SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad are all said to be interested in the frequencies, although they too are waiting to discover the precise terms and conditions of the government’s sale. Despite Niel’s call on coverage targets, several operators have apparently voiced concerns over Arcep’s proposals to compel 4G spectrum winners to provide extensive coverage of rural areas. They are also lobbying government to keep to a minimum the reserve fee for the licences, mindful that they were all adversely impacted by the high cost of 3G mobile spectrum. ‘The frequencies will be sold in four lots: two of 10MHz and two of 5MHz,’ Besson has said.

France, Free Mobile (Iliad), Iliad (Free)