French broadband provider Iliad is willing to pay the €206 million fee for one of the 5MHz blocks of frequency on offer to run the country’s fourth 3G network, reports TeleGeography, citing comments co-founder and president Xavier Niel gave to national newspaper Le Figaro. Last month the French government confirmed it would break-up the license into three lots of 5MHz, with services expected to be launched by 2012. In his interview with Le Figaro, Niel said that in light of the fact the original asking price for the full 15MHz of 3G spectrum on offer a few years ago was €619 million, it is “fair and logical” to offer approximately a third of that sum for a 5MHz allocation. One of the three blocks has been reserved for a new operator. Iliad is deemed a likely winner of the spectrum this time around; an attempt in 2007 to auction the fourth license was abandoned after Arcep received just one bid from Iliad subsidiary Free Mobile that was deemed too low. 

Reuters states that the bids will be judged on criteria for national coverage and access to the networks for MVNOs, adding that once the fourth operator’s network covers an area containing a quarter of the French population, it will have the right to strike roaming deals with established rivals, giving it a national presence. SFR chief executive Frank Esser reportedly said the proposed license award conditions amounted to a “considerable aid for a fourth operator” and he would not rule out a legal challenge to the process once the final conditions were announced. Other existing 3G operators in the country are France Telecom’s Orange, and Bouygues.