Saturday 7 November 2020

France finally gets Spectrum to launch 5G

The French people have been eagerly waiting for 5G as we alluded to in our post back in July. With the spectrum auctions now concluded, the French operators are ready to roll out 5G.

The French regulator Arcep did the following press release as soon as the spectrum positioning auction concluded: 

The main auction for the award of 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band spectrum, which ran from 29 September to 1 October 2020, made it possible to determine the amount of spectrum that each of the winning bidders would be awarded.

The “positioning” auction, whose purpose was to determine the position that each winning bidder would occupy in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band, took place on 20 October 2020.

The outcome of the positioning auction can be seen in the picture above.

Arcep will be awarding the winning candidates their licences to use 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band frequencies shortly.

Licensing fee payment

As a reminder, the winning bidders will pay:

  • The amount due for the block of 50 MHz (350 million euros) that was awarded in exchange for their making a set of commitments, in fifteen equal instalments over fifteen years, the first of which will be paid upon being awarded their frequency licence, and the remaining fourteen on the anniversary of that date;
  • The final amount bid during the main auction and positioning auction, in four equal instalments over four years, the first of which will be due upon being awarded their frequency licence and the remaining three on the anniversary of that date.

In addition to these amounts, operators will pay a variable annual fee, equal to one percent of the revenue earned from the use of these frequencies.

In another press release, they announced the creation of "5G rollout observatory". It said:

Following the completion of the main auction and positioning auction stages of the procedure for awarding 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band spectrum, Arcep will be awarding operators their frequency licences in the near future. To keep track of their progress, Arcep is creating an observatory dedicated to 5G rollouts.

An observatory to accompany the launch of 5G, and keep elected officials and citizens informed about its arrival in their area

To keep track of 5G deployments in Metropolitan France, Arcep will be publishing a dedicated observatory that will provide the following information:
  • The number of 5G cell sites that each operator has activated, and the frequency bands they use (3.5 GHz bands, low-range bands, mid-range bands);
  • A regional mapping of active 5G cell site deployments, by operator;
  • The number of 5G cell sites activated in “territories of industry” and in priority rollout areas;
  • The percentage of 4G cell sites in operators’ network that are providing increased throughput and equipped with a theoretical capacity to supply speeds of 240 Mbit/s (4G+);
    • Starting in 2022, at least 75% of cell sites must be equipped to each deliver speeds equal to a minimum 240 Mbit/s: operators can provide this level of performance either in 5G or 4G+. This obligation will gradually be extended to include all cell sites by 2030, at which point every one must be supplying a 5G service.
  • A regional mapping of 4G+ cell sites.
This observatory, which is in keeping with Arcep’s data-driven approach to regulation, will enable elected officials and citizens to stay informed about the arrival of 5G in their area.

The first 5G observatory will be posted online as the first 5G plans become commercially available.

All of this information will be made available as open data. 

In early 2021, the observatory will be completed with unprecedented data on each operators’ planned rollouts

The licences to use 3.5 GHz band spectrum that will be awarded in November carry unprecedented transparency obligations regarding mobile operators’ deployments (not only on 5G rollouts in the 3.5 GHz band, but also more broadly on every band and technology).

As a result, in early 2021, Arcep will publish details on:

  • the location of the cell sites that operators plan on activating in the next three months, including information on the available technology;
  • the location of the cell sites for which an urban planning permit application has been filed.
Annex- Operators’ main rollout obligations, tied to the award of 3.5 GHz band licences
Every operator that was a winning bidder for 3.5 GHz band spectrum must comply with a set of rollout obligations, in support of regional digital development.

In particular, these obligations include:
  • A specific rollout trajectory for 5G cell sites using the 3.5 GHz band - Operators must deploy 3,000 cell sites in 2022, 8,000 in 2024 and 10,500 in 2025, using 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band frequencies.

  • Specific obligations regarding non-urban areas - 25% of the cell sites deployed in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band for the final two milestones (2024 and 2025) must be deployed in an area that includes municipalities that are part of low-density areas and so-called territories of industry, outside the country’s main metropolitan areas.

  • A steady increase in connection speeds, moving towards the ultimate goal of a nationwide 5G service. - By 2022, at least 75% of cell sites must be equipped to each deliver speeds equal to a minimum 240 Mbit/s: operators can provide this level of performance either in 5G or 4G+. This obligation will gradually be extended to include all cell sites by 2030, at which point every one must be supplying a 5G service.
RCR Wireless reported last month that French mobile operators are currently testing 5G services with a total of 483 active 5G base stations across the country, French press reported. Orange leads in terms of 5G base stations deployments, with 353, followed by Bouygues Telecom, with 67, SFR, with 54 and Free, with 9.

Orange has been most vocal about deploying 5G and when the auction was concluded, already announced 5G launch in December. Commsupdate reported:

Orange France is planning to start offering 5G services in December, following the launch of four new 5G-compatible voice and data plans. The new offerings range in price from EUR39.90 (USD46.92) for unlimited calls/SMS, 70GB of 5G data and an optional second SIM for another connected device, to EUR94.99 for unlimited calls/SMS/data and two additional SIMs. The operator claims that its 5G network will utilise existing 4G sites, and will feature Massive MIMO technology. The network will utilise spectrum in the 3.4GHz-3.8GHz band (Orange secured 90MHz in the band for EUR854 million in Arcep’s recently concluded 5G auction) and the 26GHz band (24.25GHz-27.50GHz). While commercial licences for the 26GHz will not be available immediately, Orange claims to have trial concessions to test the spectrum at two sites.

More details on above on Orange's website here.

It also looks like there will not be all smooth sailing of 5G rollout in France.

Light Reading reported that, A group of Orange employees, calling themselves "Je Suis Si Vert" (I'm So Green), circulated memos in May 2020 and October 2019 arguing the technology will be bad for the environment and unprofitable.

Regardless of all the noise, we can expect to see the start of 5G rollouts in France soon.

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