French mobile operators invested €2.2B in networks in 2014, but rural challenges remain

France's four mobile operators invested a combined €2.2 billion ($2.4 billion) in 2G, 3G and 4G networks in 2014, but regulator Arcep said more needs to be done to ensure more sparsely populated parts of France also have access to mobile broadband networks.

Arcep said the development of 4G is well underway across the country, noting in a new report that the pace of 4G rollouts has been much faster than previous 2G and 3G deployments and that a large percentage of the population now has access to 4G.

As of July 15 this year, Orange covered 76 per cent of the population with its own 4G network. Bouygues Telecom covered 72 per cent per cent, Free Mobile 52 per cent and Numericable-SFR 39 per cent. However, Numericable-SFR's coverage was greater thanks to its partial use of Bouygues Telecom's 4G network.

According to figures from France's frequencies agency ANFR, 22,703 mobile sites had been authorised for 4G in France as of Dec. 1. Orange led the way with 8,202 sites, followed by Bouygues Telecom with 6,858 sites. Free Mobile sits third with 5,347 sites, while Numericable-SFR has 3,802 sites. The majority of sites are in the 2.6 GHz band (15,833 sites), followed by the 800 MHz band (13,610) and the 1800 MHz band (8,158).

At the same time, Arcep insists that people in less populated parts of France must also receive superfast mobile coverage as soon as possible. Indeed, in terms of coverage by territory, around 70 per cent still lacks access to high-speed mobile broadband. This in turn affects around 20 per cent of the overall population.

The task for the four operators is to reach 40 per cent of the population in these areas by Jan. 17, 2017.

"Arcep will be especially mindful of ensuring that this obligation is met," the regulator added.

In terms of 2G and 3G coverage, operators must have achieved full 2G coverage in all town centres by the end of 2016, and 3G coverage by mid-2017.

"In particular, there are some 2,000 town centres that still need to be provided with 3G coverage from all four mobile operators by mid-2017," Arcep said.

Arcep further noted that investments in mobile networks and services have typically ranged between €2 billion and €2.5 billion since 2004. Between 2010 and 2012, around €4.7 billion was spent on the acquisition of 3G and 4G frequencies. Between 2015 and 2019, the operators will spend an additional €2.8 billion on frequencies in the 700 MHz band: Arcep completed the auction of six blocks in this band in November.

For more:
- see the Arcep report
- see this ANFR update

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