France's 4 operators apply to take part in 700 MHz spectrum auction

Bouygues Telecom, Free Mobile, Orange and SFR have all confirmed that they plan to take part in France's auction of 700 MHz spectrum assignments after each operator filed an application with the French telecoms regulator.

Arcep said the four operators submitted their applications by the deadline on Sept. 29. It will now examine the applications to ensure they satisfy the procedure's admissibility and qualification criteria, and expects this process to take around a month.

The regulator will then publish a list of the candidates that are eligible to participate in the frequency auctions, and plans to hold the auction in November so that licences can be issued before the end of the year. Arcep previously said the frequencies will be allocated through a multi-round ascending auction and will include coverage obligations as strong as those attached to the 800 MHz band, as well as new obligations requiring on-board coverage on trains.

Arcep invited bidders to submit applications in July, kicking off a process that the French government hopes will raise at least €2.5 billion ($2.8 billion) for state coffers.

Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron and Axelle Lemaire, junior minister for the digital economy, confirmed at the time that the government planned to sell six 2×5 MHz blocks of 700 MHz spectrum to mobile operators at a reserve price of €416 million per block.

Each operator will be limited to no more than 2×15 MHz in the 700 MHz band. In addition, no operator will be able to hold more than 2×30 MHz of low frequency spectrum in total.

The 700 MHz band is currently being used by digital terrestrial television (DTT) services in France. The government decided to allocate 2×30 MHz to mobile operators "to enable them to keep pace with the exponential increase in mobile data traffic," Arcep noted. The band will be freed up progressively across the country between 2016 and 2019.

The auction has been much anticipated as it will provide the four mobile operators with important spectrum assets for their LTE rollouts. Stephane Richard, the CEO of Orange, also recently said in an interview with French broadsheet Les Echos that consolidation could return to the French mobile sector in 2016 once the auction has been completed.

France is the next country in Europe after Germany to auction off frequencies in the 700 MHz auction. The recent German auction also included frequencies in the 900 MHz, 1500 MHz and 1800 MHz bands and raised a total of over €5 billion, although the reserve price had been set at just €1.5 billion.

The UK also plans to open up 700 MHz frequencies to mobile operators for wireless broadband services by 2022 or possibly up to two years earlier.

For more:
- see the Arcep release

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