Private Networks

Slow start in France for private 3.8GH–4GHz spectrum

French communications regulator Arcep announced last week that it had awarded three more local licenses at 3.8GH–4GHz, set aside for private use by French enterprises.

It takes the total of licenses awarded in this frequency band up to 13, which roughly works out at a rate of two licenses issued per month since Arcep opened up its 3.8GH–4GHz "window for 5G experimentation platforms" in March.

The regulator didn't say how many license applications had been made so far, and made no mention of any others that might be in the pipeline.

By stark contrast, in the UK, Ofcom – according to the regulator's interim director of spectrum management and authorization Nina Percival – is now doling out local private spectrum licenses at a rate of between 20 and 70 per month.

Ofcom has had much longer to hone application processes than Arcep, however. The UK regulator started issuing 'shared access' spectrum in early 2020.

On a 5G industrial mission

In France, applicants can request up to 100MHz of 'localized' spectrum in the 3.8GH–4GHz frequency range. The licenses are valid for three years, and the application window shuts on December 31, 2022.

Since regulator Arcep opened up 3.8GH-4GHz frequencies for 5G 'experimentation' by different industry verticals in March, only 13 licenses have been awarded.
 (Source: Philipp Dimitri/Westend61 GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo)
Since regulator Arcep opened up 3.8GH–4GHz frequencies for 5G 'experimentation' by different industry verticals in March, only 13 licenses have been awarded.
(Source: Philipp Dimitri/Westend61 GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo)

Like Germany, France – as part of fulfilling its 5G industrial mission – prefers applications from manufacturing or other verticals, such as energy, healthcare, and transport logistics, as well as taking on smart cities use cases and encouraging involvement from academia.

The trio of successful applicants, which took the total number of license awards up to 13, are Capgemini, SNCF Network, and the University Hospital Institute of Strasbourg.

Details of all the licensees' work (in French) can be found in the 5G experimentation dashboard published on Arcep's website.

UK, Germany have bigger numbers

Ofcom's Percival, speaking at the recent Private Networks European Forum, reported that the UK had awarded 1,600 "shared access" licenses.

Of that number, over 1,000 have been awarded in the 1800MHz band (where 2x3.3MHz is available on a shared access basis) and some 500 in the 3.8–4.2GHz band (390MHz available). Shared access spectrum is also available at 2.3GHz (10MHz) and at 24.25–26.5GHz (2GHz).

Work is underway to make the application process easier. "We welcome having an open dialogue with current and potential licensees about how the system works now and whether there are things we might want to change or improve in the future," Percival said. "By the 2024–25 period, we should have moved to our online system, which will enable a really quick turnaround for applicants."

In Germany, more than 250 private wireless networks run on local spectrum between 3.7GHz and 3.8GHz, which was 'liberated' for vertical use cases in November 2019.

"Up until now, everybody who has applied for a license has been granted one," said Alexander Kühn, head of international and national spectrum management at BNetzA, Germany's regulator.

Jonas Wessel, director of resource management at the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) – and a co-panelist with Percival and Kühn at the Private Networks European Forum – said Sweden had set aside 40MHz of "property-based" spectrum for enterprise use in the 3.5GHz band since November last year.

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Like Arcep, PTS doesn't seem to have been overwhelmed by applicants, "We've not had a very large pick up," he conceded, "but we do see a large interest from healthcare, mining and transport."

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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