France to postpone April 5G auction – quelle surprise

An auction of a bunch of mid-band 5G spectrum was due to take place in France next month, but now it isn’t coz of COVID-19.

The French Telecoms regulator Arcep announced the auction last November in simpler, more innocent times. 310 MHz of spectrum in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band was due to be on the table in four 50 MHz blocks and 11 10 MHz morsels. You can see how Arcep envisaged the process playing out below.

While, in principle, the auction could technically take place despite the severe restrictions on movement currently imposed in France, in practice there’s little point in pushing ahead with such things when all the follow-up activities would be so difficult to perform. Arcep has yet to publish a press release announcing the cancellation, but has individually advised plenty of media that is the case.

On top of the movement restrictions and the consequent fact that everyone who can is now working from home, nearly all businesses are going to be severely cash flow constrained while the world remains in limbo as we attempt to minimize the severity of this once-in-a-century pandemic. It seems very unlikely that operators will be inclined to bid with any enthusiasm whatsoever in any spectrum auctions until this runs its course.

French watchdog outlines mid-band spectrum auction rules

French regulator Arcep has unveiled its plans for the 3.4-3.8 GHz spectrum auction with some pretty ambitious coverage obligations.

Although the telcos will have to wait until at least March 2020 to begin the bidding process, Arcep has shown it does pay attention to the wants and needs of private industry, including a couple of amendments from the consultation documents released in July. The main change was to increase the blocks of spectrum available in each allocation to 50 MHz.

The only piece of the puzzle which is now missing, hence the delay, are reserve prices. This is a Government decision, though many of the telcos will have fingers crossed the aggressive increase in spectrum prices is not carried through to this auction with high reserve prices.

Moving onto the coverage obligations, this is what the telcos will keeping a keen eye on. First and foremost, each telco assigned spectrum in the ‘innovation band’ will have to launch 5G in two cities by the end of 2020. Following this launch, Arcep is imposing stern demands on the number of cell sites which would have to be upgraded for these spectrum assets:

  • 3,000 by 2022
  • 8,000 by 2024
  • 10,500 by 2025

Although these targets would not get close to 100% geographical coverage, it would guarantee a pretty aggressive expansion of the 5G footprint over the next few years. On top of these coverage obligations, 25% of the cell site upgrades in the final two phases much be in ‘sparsely populated regions’ to ensure a digital divide is not created.

These coverage commitments are also extended to the road and rail infrastructure, while minimum speeds of 240 Mbps will have to be delivered on 75% of the sites by 2022. Another obligation which will be placed on the telco focuses on network slicing.

Network slicing is a key topic of discussion for all 5G enthusiasts, though rarely do the regulators include such concepts in spectrum auction obligations. Arcep has said the telcos will have to be able to offer tiered services to customers by 2023 at the latest.

While telcos rarely like being told what to do, this seems to be one of the more reasonable approaches to a spectrum auction. The reserve prices are still an unknown, but the coverage commitments are unlikely to scare any of the telcos. All eyes now turn to 2020, and the exciting part of the auction process, before Arcep moves onto the 26 GHz spectrum.

France targets 2020 5G rollout

French regulator Arcep has laid out its 5G roadmap with ambitions to launch the mobile euphoria in at least one major city by 2020, and provide 5G coverage of the main transport routes by 2025.

The plan, which has been given the thumbs up by both Delphine Gény-Stephann, Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and Finance and Mounir Mahjoubi, Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, will aim to retain French competitiveness in the digital era as Europeans look like they are losing touch with the US and the leading nations in Asia. Along with the headline 2020 and 2025 objectives of the roadmap, Arcep has also outlined the underlying ambitions; free up and allocate radio frequencies, the development of new uses, encourage new infrastructure investments and a communications strategy which will keep the public informed.

Aside from the complicated task of freeing up the 3.4-3.8 GHz, 26 GHz and the 1.5 GHz bands, Arcep will also manage a number of working groups to define the technical conditions for using the bands, to avoid interference between 5G networks and with existing applications, as well establish the allocation procedures and timetable to enable 5G service launches in 2020. Elsewhere, the regulator will also assess the feasibility of network sharing, which might prove to be a complicated task in a market where the telcos are not necessarily on the friendliest of terms.

Although it has been a slow start for the French, there does seem to be some gathering momentum. Arcep opened a 5G Pilot window in January of this year, and has approved 22 trials in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band since that point. The majority of these trials are based in Paris, though Arcep has prioritized cohesion in the ecosystem as a means to success for 5G. Aside from the network sharing ambitions, the regulator is also targeting a mobilisation of the start-up community through briefings and education programmes, ensuring this segment hits the ground running.

Setting out the roadmap for the delivery of 5G is the first step in the right direction, but now comes the complicated jobs for Arcep; making sure everyone does what they are supposed to. Local authorities seem to be playing a more notable role here than in many other areas, perhaps owing to the size of the country and the increased isolation of some communities in comparison to other nations. A necessary step, but making sure these paper pushers do not slow-down the rollout will be a difficult task.

French Gov congratulates itself for operator investments

The French Government has decided it deserves to congratulate itself for the money which operators have spent on improving connectivity throughout the country.

The pat on the back comes as French regulator Arcep unveils the how the country is progressing into the digital economy. €9.6 billion was spent over the last 12 months, including spectrum purchases, which is a record for France, with the operators bringing in €36.2 billion over the period.

“Two years ago, I asked operators to break open their piggy banks, to rise to national coverage challenges, and enable France to catch up on the connectivity front,” said Sébastien Soriano, Chair of Arcep. “With an investment of €9.6 billion, we are seeing the sector’s growing commitment to making up for lost time, and coming in line with the country’s infrastructure needs.”

The presence of suitable infrastructure is of course critical for the success the digital economy, and while Arcep is congratulating itself on the progress made, the operators need to do more work. As you can see below, the investment is the highest proportion compared to total revenues for some time, however France is 27th on fixed superfast broadband and 21st on 4G coverage according to stats from the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI).

France Graph

Looking forward over the next 12 months, the message from Arcep is clear; it needs to carry on the fantastic work it is doing, but operators need to make connectivity better. Part of this will include pooled investments to accelerate digital coverage in the country’s most sparsely populated areas, and a number of initiatives to ease the transition into 5G.

First and foremost will be a public consultation on the system for introducing 5G on the 26 GHz band, and a study on the methods for rearranging the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band. Next will come a period of preparation of the frequency allocation procedure, as well as co-ordinating with public sector entities to create a positive regulatory environment for rollouts. All of this will hopefully result in commercial launches by 2020.

If you happen to want to congratulate the French for improving broadband coverage and FTTH penetration, send your post cards to the Arcep offices, addressed to Mr. Soriano. Don’t worry about the operators, according to Seb they didn’t do much anyway.

France wants to reallocate 134 MHz of 2G and 3G spectrum to 4G

Arcep, the French telecoms regulator, has opened a public consultation on the reallocation of a bunch of frequency bands.

Around 134 MHz of spectrum in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.1 GHz bands is in play, which is currently being used for 2G and 3G by Orange, SFR and Bouygues. The 900 and 1800 were allocated in 2006 and 2009 under 15-year licenses, so are up for grabs again in 2021 and 2024. The 2.1 GHz was doshed out in 2001 and 2002 on a 20-year license.

The table below shows all the licensed frequency in play. There are a bunch of considerations to bear in mind, but one of the big ones seems to be making frequency available to other players. This presumably means Free Mobile mainly, but maybe Arcep also wants to make it easier for other new entrants.

Here are the other considerations highlighted in the release:

  • Adding 4G to all 2G and 3G cell sites;
  • Covering the main roadways and daily commute trains;
  • Introducing a targeted coverage scheme that requires every operator to cover 5,000 new locations that the Government, in tandem with local authorities, identified as being in need of coverage;
  • Increasing quality of service;
  • Indoor coverage.

Acep frequency reallocation

France takes tentative steps towards 5G

The first standards are out and the 5G frenzy is beginning, but France isn’t getting caught up in the euphoria, as Arcep makes slow and steady steps towards the next generation of mobile.

Arcep, the French telco regulator, has announced it will release temporary frequency authorisations to develop 5G pilots in the 3400 – 3800 MHz and the 26 GHz band. In this sense, the French are very much falling in line with the rest of the continent, as the two bands are proving to be a popular 5G choice in many nations.

“In the 3400 – 3800 MHz band, frequencies are already available in the metropolitan areas of Lyon, Bordeaux, Nantes, Lille, Le Havre, Saint-Étienne, Douai, Montpellier and Grenoble,” Arcep said on its website. “This is not an exhaustive list and may change over time: interested parties are invited to contact Arcep if they plan on deploying networks in other frequency ranges, or in other geographical locations.”

It does seem like a very calm and reasoned approach to the mobile tsunami. While other nations are preaching over the glories of 5G, shouting and screaming how their efforts will make them the most powerful nation in the world, the French approach seems to be a lot more considered and humble.

The objective here seems to be to figure out what 5G actually is. Yes, it is faster, more powerful and extra reliable, but what that actually looks like in the real world largely remains a mystery. The number of concrete usecases, which will be applicable to the world over the next couple of years, are shaky at best.

The promise of gigabit speeds for your mobile are all well and good, but does anyone need them yet? Autonomous vehicles sound wonderful, but the legal frameworks and supporting industries won’t be ready for decades. Will the general population be ready to accept the idea of robotic surgery at any point in the near future? These are all wonderful ideas, but not realistic for the next couple of years.

This seems to be the French approach; find a usecase and we’ll get France ready for the rollout. IoT seems to be the area which will be most relevant, but this is something we already knew. Aside from gigabit speeds which we won’t be able to take advantage of without the penetration of 5G ready devices, the boring IoT background work will take priority. But it will ultimately prove useful for the consumer, just not in the blockbuster fashion some were hoping for.

Imagine a smart-harbour. All the containers are connected, the vehicles which are used to shift everything around are autonomous and many of the logistical processes are automated. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but it is an excellent usecase for IoT. Efficiencies will be realized almost immediately, so standard delivery times could be reduced from 3-5 days to 2-3 days. There will numerous usecases like this in various different sectors which aren’t sexy, but will improve our lives just a little bit every day. Add up all those little bits and things start to get notably better.

Arcep might not be taking the chest-beating approach which other nations are, but it does seem to be taking the bullsh*t out of 5G; we like it.