Arcep permits Orange and SFR to refarm 1800 MHz spectrum for 4G

French telecoms regulator Arcep authorised SFR and Orange to refarm frequencies in the 1800 MHz frequency band for use with 4G services with effect from May 25, 2016.

Arcep noted that 1800 MHz is one of the two frequency bands that has historically been used by 2G networks, but is increasingly being used for 4G services. The regulator has now agreed to change the terms of the mobile operators' licences by making the band technology-neutral--meaning it can be used by any mobile service.

Bouygues Telecom was given the go-ahead to refarm 1800-MHz spectrum as long ago as March 2013, when Arcep issued a general directive on introducing technological neutrality in the 1800 MHz band. Arcep previously noted that the move formed part of efforts to ensure a "balanced allocation" of the 1800 MHz band among the country's four mobile operators.

At the time, Orange and SFR fiercely opposed the move as they claimed they were unable to follow Bouygues Telecom in refarming those airwaves because they used them more heavily than their rival for 2G services.

Certainly, Bouygues Telecom was able to launch 4G services at a faster pace than rivals, which were relying on 800 MHz spectrum for their LTE rollouts: on its LTE launch date of Oct. 1, 2013, Bouygues already covered 63 per cent of the population.

The operator was also required to relinquish a portion of this frequency band, which was then allocated to Free Mobile on Jan. 1 this year. Orange and SFR--now part of the Numericable-SFR group--will also be required to relinquish a portion of their frequencies by May 25 next year, providing Free Mobile with a total of 15 MHz of 1800 MHz spectrum and leaving the other three operators with 20 MHz apiece.

The four regulators will also soon have the chance to bid for frequencies in the 700-MHz band. Potential applicants have until midday CEST on Sept. 29, 2015 to submit their applications. Arcep plans to conduct the auction and award the licences to the winning candidates before the end of 2015.

For more:
- see this Arcep release

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