An auction of frequencies in the 700MHz band is scheduled for late next year in France, with Free, the country’s latest entrant, tipped to lead bids for the 4G-friendly spectrum.
The auction was announced by French prime minister Manuel Valls, according to Reuters. The aim is to award licences in December 2015.
The handover of frequencies, which are currently used by terrestrial TV broadcasters, will occur between 1 October 2017 and 30 June 2019. In certain areas, the frequencies could become available even sooner — by April 2016.
The 700MHz band is particularly attractive to operators, although the country’s four incumbents dug deep in their pockets for an auction of frequencies in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands auction relatively recently. That contest raised €3.5 billion in December 2011.
The government forecasts proceeds for the 2015 contest exceeding €2 billion, which it has already earmarked for defence spending.
Free is expected to be most interested in the new frequencies because it has less spectrum than its longer established rivals.
Founder Xavier Niel has said the forthcoming auction will be a test of which operator has staying power in the country’s market, a veiled threat to third-placed Bouygues Telecom.