France launches LTE spectrum auction

Bouygues Telecom has entered into exclusive negotiations with rival Free to sell its mobile phone network and portfolio of frequencies for “up to €1.8bn”

The French auction for LTE spectrum is now imminent after French digital economy minister Éric Besson signed a decree launching the tender for operators to submit their bids, The process will begin in the coming days, French newspaper Le Monde reported, once the announcement is published in an official gazette. Operators will have until September to submit their bids.

On 31 May, French telecom regulator Arcep submitted proposals to the government for spectrum distribution, listing national coverage, increased competition and maximising value from the auctions, as the priorities.

The higher-end 2.6GHz spectrum will be cut into four lots and awarded in October, while the desirable 800MHz band will be divided into 14 lots, and won’t be awarded until early 2012.

Operators will need deep pockets to place their bids, as in mid-May the French government increased its reserve bid level for the auctions overall from €2bn to €2.5bn

The requirements on the operators include the obligation to cover 98 per cent of the population within 12 years. The requirements move up to 99.6 per cent within 15 years for those with 800MHz spectrum, while for those with 2.6GHz spectrum the figure is 75 per cent of the population within 15 years.

Besson said that there should be a focus on coverage in rural areas to bridge the digital divide, and the announcement that mobile operators would be able to buy two blocks of 15MHz spectrum in the 800MHz range, rather than the usual 10MHz blocks, means that rural France could well see fast LTE speeds.

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