3G coverage worse at 900Mhz than 2.1GHz, claims French regulator

During tests to qualify the coverage claims made by the French mobile operators, the French telecoms regulator, Arcep, found that 3G coverage in the 900MHz band was less consistent compared with 3G offered in the 2.1GHz band.

While Arcep offered no technical explanation for this unreliability of 3G in the 900MHz band, it might provide French operators with an excuse for not meeting their 3G licence coverage requirements.

These coverage requirements--which Arcep has been recently measuring--are slightly different for Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom.

As per the terms of their licence, Orange France should have been providing 3G coverage to 91 per cent of the population by the end of 2011, SFR was bound to cover 84 per cent by the end of June 2010 and 98 per cent by the end of 2011, while Bouygues Telecom was targeted to provide 75 per cent coverage by the end of 2010.

Arcep's survey found that SFR's coverage map complied, on the whole, with the licence stipulations, with the company providing 3G coverage to 84 per cent of the population as of the end of June 2010.

However, this level of 3G reception was below the 87 per cent figure published by SFR in a press release dated July 2010, and significantly below the 99.3 per cent coverage that the company originally committed to achieving by August 2009.

French operators are not alone in bending the rules on coverage charts, with UK service providers also being accused of exaggerating their 3G reception areas. However, with the entry of Free Mobile--the 4th French 3G operator expected sometime next year--operators are expected to ramp up their infrastructure investments to make coverage a marketing differentiator over Free's expected low pricing plans.

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