France’s telecoms regulator announced plans to allocate 700MHz frequencies to mobile operators later this year, at the same time as a late rally in prices for this band in the now completed German spectrum auction.
In a statement today, Arcep, the French communications watchdog, said that 700MHz spectrum will be “freed up progressively across the country”, in a period between April 2016 and June 2019. It has now issued draft decisions on the licensing procedures, following work carried out with “market stakeholders and the ministers responsible for digital affairs”.
The procedure is based on a range of priorities, including monetising intangible state assets, regional development, promoting investment, and preserving “fair and effective competition”.
The issue will come through an auction process, with a reserve price for the whole band of €2.5 billion. It includes coverage obligations “that are as strong as those attached to the 800MHz band”, particularly with regard to rural areas, to “improve the quality of 4G services in these areas over time and to prepare for the potential development of 5G services on these bands”.
Also included are new obligations to improve mobile data availability onboard “everyday trains”, as well as a more detailed quality of service audit for high-speed railway and underground lines.
Six blocks of 2x5MHz are on offer, and a single candidate cannot acquire more than three in total. Operators will not be able to hold more than 2x30MHz of low frequency spectrum in total, across the 700MHz, 800MHz and 900MHz bands combined.
Candidates will have until the end of Q3 2015 to file applications. It plans to conduct an auction in Q4, and issue licences to winning candidates before the end of the year.
The French government will probably be buoyed by the fact that bidding on 700MHz spectrum in Germany, being issued as part of a multi-band process, has picked up following a long period of stagnation.
After round 179, bidding on the 700MHz frequencies had topped €800 million, after having settled at around €450 million for some time. Vodafone Germany was the first player to start pushing up prices in this band.
Earlier this week, Coleago Consulting told Mobile World Live that Vodafone had been in the driving seat as prices for 1800MHz spectrum climbed. “The gap between 1800MHz and 700MHz grew so high, it was only a matter of time before one of them broke rank and pushed up prices even more,” Stefan Zehle, CEO at Coleago, said.