French 3G licences: The never-ending story

Following the collapse late last year of its efforts to award a fourth 3G licence, the French government has decided on a new approach. Rather than giving out a new full licence, the French have decided to split the spectrum block it intended issuing into three tranches of 15MHz, one of which will be reserved for a new operator. The tender process for the spectrum blocks will take place in February with the actual allocations being made at the end of the year.

The previous 3G licence process failed when French telecom regulator ARCEP rejected the application from the only bidder, Iliad, on the grounds that it had failed to meet the laid-down financial conditions. Iliad said at the time that it was still interested in acquiring a 3G licence and presumably will be considering pitching for the new operator's spectrum allocation. Another possible new entrant is French alternative operator Neuf Cegetel. As there are no limitations on who can bid for the other two blocks, the existing French 3G operators are likely to show interest, which could drive up the bidding. What the spectrum allocations are worth is anyone's guess; the existing operators paid 619 million Euros for their current 3G spectrum.

ARCEP has also announced a public consultation on the application procedures to be followed for the allocation of the 2.6GHz frequency band and for the spectrum released by the digital dividend.

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