French 'Digital Dividend' could set EU spectrum agenda

The announcement this week by the French Government to share the 'digital dividend' spectrum between electronic communications and audiovisual services could, if similar actions were undertaken by other Member States, be a key step in reaching fully harmonised decisions across the EU.

Whilst the heart of the document addressed audiovisual services, the decision to allocate 72MHz to telecoms was aimed at providing 99 per cent of the French population with very high-speed fixed and mobile broadband access.

However, according to the telecoms consultancy Analysys Mason, this potential move has raised a number of questions:

  • Under what conditions would licences be assigned to operators? Is the organisation of an auction (following the example of the recent US 700MHz auction) realistic? Would the assignment process for digital-dividend frequencies be co-ordinated with the assignment of the fourth 3G licence?
  • 72MHz would enable the deployment of a limited number of very high-speed mobile broadband networks. What would this number be (one or two as is technically possible)?
  • What concrete measures would be taken to reach the French government's objective of very high-speed fixed/mobile broadband for all on the whole French territory? What role would satellite have to play regarding very high-speed mobile broadband national coverage?

There were also issues relating to the development of the market on an international level:

  • Would equipment vendors and operators place UMTS, HSDPA and LTE equipment that uses digital-dividend spectrum at the centre of their development roadmaps? And would vendors standardise equipment in the 790-862MHz sub-band chosen by the French?
  • Would other European Member States engage in a national debate on the use of the digital dividend, in order to lead to government decisions in the near future? If so, what would be the timeframe? Could they be expected to follow a more 'technology-neutral' approach?

One thing is sure, however, the French "numérique 2012" plan sets out the road map for the evolution of digital services across France and has potentially paved the way for harmonised decisions across Europe. Attention will now be focused on how other Member States react to this bold (or disruptive?) initiative.

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