Arcep awards 1800 MHz frequencies to Free Mobile

France's telecoms regulator Arcep has awarded spectrum in the 1800 MHz frequency band to Free Mobile, which will be able to use the airwaves for the expansion of its LTE network across the country.

In a statement, the regulator said a licence for a 5 MHz block has been issued to Free Mobile initially, with 15 MHz set to be issued in total. The first 5 MHz will become available from Jan. 1, 2015 across France with the exception of Marseille (from Apr. 1), Nice and Paris (from July 1).

Arcep noted that the move forms part of efforts to ensure a "balanced allocation" of the 1800 MHz band among the country's four mobile operators. Free Mobile--the country's fourth mobile operator launched by Iliad in January 2012--had requested the allocation of 5 MHz of the 1800 MHz band in a letter sent to Arcep on Oct. 28.

Importantly, the spectrum has also been issued on a technology neutral basis, meaning that Free Mobile will be able to use it for the further expansion of its LTE network. Bouygues Telecom has also made use of 1800 MHz spectrum for its LTE network after the regulator permitted it to refarm spectrum previously allocated for 2G networks.

As things stand, 15,020 LTE mobile masts are now in service across France (as of Dec. 1, 2014), with 18,452 able to support the high-speed service. According to France's national frequencies agency ANFR, 6,785 masts have been authorised for LTE in the 1800 MHz band--all operated by Bouygues Telecom. This compares to 12,047 masts authorised for the 2.6 GHZ band and 9,701 for the 800 MHz band.

Free Mobile currently has 1,924 LTE masts in service and 4,024 that now support LTE--all in the 2.6 GHz band. According to a report by online news site iGen.fr, the company will be able to make use of the new 800 MHz frequencies to build out its LTE network more rapidly and also launch LTE Advanced services in combination with its existing 2.6 GHz frequencies.

Meanwhile Free Mobile has been making progress with its 3G network, which it has been gradually expanding in order to reach its coverage requirements. According to Les Echos, Jean-Ludovic Silicani, the outgoing president of Arcep, said Free Mobile should be able to meet its requirement to cover 75 per cent of the population by mid-January next year. This would be independent of the company's current national roaming agreement with Orange

For more:
- see this Arcep release
- see this ANFR release (in French)
- see this iGen.fr article (in French)
- see this Les Echos article (in French)

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