French 4G Spectrum Update

The French government kicked off 2009 by putting its spectrum house in order with plans to allocate 4G spectrum in addition to a fourth 3G license.

The news will come as a veritable bonne année wish for mobile hopefuls in the country because the government said the fourth 3G license will be reserved for a new entrant. Broadband challenger Iliad (Euronext: ILD) tried getting its hands on this license in 2007 but did not bid high enough. Now the operator and others will have another crack at getting a 3G mobile license. (See No 3G License for Free, 3G Spectrum, Anyone?, and France's 3G Giveaway.)

In addition, French regulator Arcep will launch a public consultation on how to allocate 4G spectrum -- that is, the 2.6 GHz and 790 MHz to 862 MHz bands -- which are the prime frequency bands operators are eyeing for future 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) deployments. Spectrum in the 790 MHz to 862 MHz frequency band will be available for use in November 2011, after broadcasters switch to digital TV and vacate the spectrum. (See Europe Waits for 4G Spectrum.)

For 3G, there are 15 MHz in the 2.1 GHz band available in France, and the government has decided to split this into three 5 MHz blocks. The fourth 3G license will comprise 5 MHz of 2.1 GHz spectrum as well as 5 MHz of 900 MHz spectrum, which will be handed over from existing operators Orange France , SFR , or Bouygues Telecom . (See France Frees 3G Spectrum, Down on the (Re)Farm, and Arcep Approves 900MHz 3G.)

Next month, the French parliament will debate and decide the details about the fourth 3G license, including the price, as well as what to do with the remaining 10 MHz of 2.1 GHz spectrum.

It's possible that a call for tender for the 3G license could be launched by the end of the year, according to an industry source.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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