By Juan Pedro Tomás
French telecoms regulator Arcep confirmed that a 5G spectrum auction which had been delayed by COVID-19 will begin in September.
In a statement, Arcep said it plans to run a sale of spectrum in the 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz bands between September 20 and the end of the month. This will be followed by a positioning auction in October to determine bidder positions in the bands, with licenses due to be issued later that month or November. The French government previously said it aims to raise at least 2.17 billion euros (US$2.38 billion) from the spectrum sale.
The auction was originally scheduled for April, but regulators decided to postpone the process due to COVID-19 containment measures in France. Because of the delay, Arcep lifted obligations for operators to launch 5G services in a minimum of two cities by the year-end.
On April 2, Arcep announced that France’s four mobile network operators – Bouygues Telecom, Free Mobile, Orange and SFR – had qualified to participate in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz spectrum auction. Each had made the commitments that enabled them to obtain a block of 50 megahertz for the sum of 350 million euros. In the main auction, Arcep aims to award the remaining 11 blocks of 10 megahertz in the 3.4 -3.8 GHz band.
Arcep also confirmed that it decided to lift the obligation listed in the specifications for each operator to deploy 5G services in at least two cities before the end of 2020. The regulator had previously determined that each carrier should deploy 3,000 5G sites by 2022, 8,000 sites in 2024 and 10,500 sites by 2025.
The regulator also said that the new licenses to be awarded in the last quarter of the year will carry obligations to strengthen 4G access.
The watchdog said that the widespread availability of 4G+ will be guaranteed in every region of the country. In particular, operators will be required to ensure that a minimum 75 per cent of their cell sites are 4G+ enabled by the end of 2022. Arcep called on operators to step up their efforts in this area, particularly as the initial roadmap for 5G investments has been delayed.