France moved a step closer to issuing 5G licences, closing a spectrum auction after three days of bidding and so clearing the path for the final phase in the process.

Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad committed a total of €2.8 billion in the sale of frequencies in the 3.4GHz and 3.8GHz band, following an auction which regulator Arcep stated was ended yesterday (1 October) after all 11 blocks of 10MHz on offer were bid for.

It said Orange bid €854 million for a total of 90MHz; SFR €728 million on 80MHz, with Bouygues Telecom and Free Mobile (Iliad) each bidding €602 million for 70MHz.

Orange CEO Stephane Richard stated the operator was “very satisfied” with the result, adding “we have just taken an essential step forward in making the networks of the future a reality”.

Arcep plans to conduct a frequency position process this month, the final step before it issues licences.

It noted the price paid for each 10MHz block reached €126 million, far exceeding the €70 million reserve price.

The operators’ final tallies included a 50MHz block offered at a fixed price of €350 million.

Licensees are required to activate 5G service on 3,000 sites by end-2022, 8,000 by end-2024 and 10,500 by end-2025.

Jefferies analysts speculated the auction could spark a competition among the operators to “bring 5G into service first,” noting Bouygues Telecom has a “premium network position to protect”.