French telecoms regulator Arcep has sold the first blocks of fourth-generation (4G) mobile frequencies in the 2600MHz band for a total of EUR936 million (USD1.28 billion), awarding concessions to all four of the country’s main mobile network operators. The watchdog says it received the highest bid from Iliad’s Free Mobile – the start-up that is preparing to enter the market within the next few months. Free Mobile agreed to pay EUR271 million for the two larger blocks of 2 × 20MHz spectrum. France Telecom (Orange) was also allocated a duplex frequency block of 20MHz, for which it bid a little over EUR287 million. FT also agreed to host mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) on its new infrastructure. Meanwhile, Vivendi’s Societe Francaise du Radiotelephone (SFR) bid EUR150 million for a 2 × 15MHz block of spectrum, and Bouygues Telecom offered EUR228 million for a duplex frequency block of 15MHz. Free Mobile and Bouygues have also agreed to open up their networks to MVNOs, while only SFR has not committed to such a plan.
The frequencies sold in the first round of the LTE auction exceeded the government’s minimum target of EUR700 million, boding well for December when Arcep will kick off phase two of the licensing process – the sale of more valuable so-called ‘golden’ 800MHz frequencies which will allow mobile signals to cover a wider area without losing their strength. The deadline for applications for the 800MHz frequencies is 15 December 2011; all four cellcos are expected to bid.