France's Arcep outlines plan to hold 5G auction in September 2020

France's telecoms regulator Arcep appears to have caved in to recent government pressure to start an auction of 5G-friendly spectrum frequencies in September this year. (See French government itching for 5G action.)

After a number of delays, most recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related "confinement" across France, Arcep has now said it will begin the auction "sometime between 20 and 30 September."

The auction of 310MHz airwaves in the highly sought after 3.4-3.8GHz frequency band was originally scheduled for April. Arcep noted that France's four mobile network operators – Bouygues Telecom, Free Mobile, Orange and SFR – have already qualified to participate. Bouygues Telecom has nevertheless expressed a preference for the auction to be held at a later date, according to Reuters.

The regulator has already agreed to sell a 50MHz block to each operator for €350 million (US$396 million), or €1.4 billion ($1.58 billion) in total. Since then, Arcep has been preparing for the main auction to award the remaining 11 blocks of 10MHz in the 3.4–3.8GHz band. The government is said to be hoping to raise at least €2.17 billion ($2.46 billion) in total.

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Should the auction take place in September, Arcep said the licenses would then be awarded in October or November, allowing the operators to start their 5G service rollouts. The regulator said it is removing the obligation for each operator to deploy 5G services in at least two cities before the end of 2020.

The spread of COVID-19 across Europe has forced a number of countries to postpone their 5G spectrum auctions, including Austria, Spain, the Czech Republic, Poland and Portugal. In the UK, regulator Ofcom has also indicated that its auction of frequencies in the 700MHz and 3.6–3.8GHz bands is unlikely before November 2020. (See 5G auctions delayed across Europe due to COVID-19.)

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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