Arcep: allocation of 3.4 – 3.8GHz band frequencies in France

Via ARCEP - Press Releases

Nov 22, 2019

Today, Arcep is publishing its Decision on the procedure and conditions for awarding licences to use frequencies in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band in Metropolitan France, and submitting it to the Government. The 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band is the core band for 5G whose deployment promises to make French businesses more competitive and drive innovation, in addition to satisfying users’ expectation of having access to increasingly powerful mobile services.

On 15 July 2019, Arcep had published a draft version of this decision for public consultation, which ran until 4 September. Following this consultation – which elicited invaluable contributions that are also being published today – Arcep has confirmed the main tenets of its initial proposal, while also making several adjustments.

The specifications, which confirm the planned terms of the procedure submitted for consultation, include a first allocation phase that enables a maximum of four candidates to obtain a block of spectrum in exchange for a set of optional commitments. The public consultation queried stakeholders on the size of that block. In light of the responses, Arcep proposed making it a block of 60 MHz – to be able to meet all of the directions that the Government set out in the letter of 2 May 2019 from Jacqueline Gourault, France’s Minister for Territorial Cohesion and Relations with Local Authorities, and Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Secretary of State to the Minister for Economy and Finance. The Government preferred to set the size of the block at 50 MHz to achieve its objectives. Arcep has taken note of this, and is submitting a procedure to the Government accordingly.

It is now up to the Government to set the financial conditions for the call for applications, particularly the reserve price(s), then to launch the frequency allocation procedure. The Authority will be extremely vigilant regarding this reserve price, which must be submitted to Arcep for an opinion. Here, a distinction must be made between the reserve price and the band’s estimated value.

Arcep is ready to conduct the frequency allocation procedure, so that the first commercially available 5G services can be launched in 2020.

Obligations that apply to all operators   

The specifications that Arcep has submitted contain a set of obligations that apply to all of the allocation procedure’s winning applicants:

5G deployment in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band. The specifications stipulate that each operator must launch 5G services in at least two cities before the end of 2020, then imposes a demanding trajectory to support the deployment of 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band equipment during the following years:

  • 3,000 sites in 2022,
  • 8,000 sites in 2024,
  • 10,500 sites in 2025.

Eventually, all of the cell sites must be providing a 5G service using frequencies in the 3.4 – 3.8 GHz band or other bands.

Arcep is also planning to introduce a concomitance mechanism to ensure that non-urban areas will also benefit from these rollouts. As a result, 25% of 3.4-3.8 GHz band sites in the last two stages must be located in sparsely populated areas, targeting economic activity, notably manufacturing, excluding major metropolitan areas.

  • Increasingly ubiquitous 5G punctuated by steadily increasing speeds. To set the pace for this rollout, Arcep also plans on keeping pace with growing bandwidth needs. By 2022, at least 75% of cell sites must be capable of providing speeds of at least 240 Mbit/s at each site. This obligation will be gradually applied to all cell cites, up to 2030.
  • Roadway coverage. Obligations that apply specifically to transport corridors have two main milestones: coverage of the country’s motorways (16,642 km) by 2025 then, by 2027, coverage of the main roadways (54,913 km). These obligations stipulate connection speeds of a minimum 100 Mbit/s at each cell site.
  • Slicing. The new level of performance provided by 5G opens the way for innovative uses in a number of vertical industries, such as manufacturing (high-precision production, logistical tracking of a very large number of objects, proliferation of sensors), health (real time remote operations), automotive (ultra-reliable low latency communications for vehicles) and media (360° virtual reality in 3D). These verticals are expecting customised networks and products, that meet their specific needs. To make this happen, Arcep is asking operators to activate the most innovative 5G functions – i.e. slicing, or the ability to deliver tiered services – by 2023 at the latest.
  • IPv6-compatibility. Furthermore, to accelerate the transition to the IPv6 routing protocol, Arcep has planned for an obligation to make mobile networks IPv6-compatible.

Optional commitments

The specifications contain a set of optional commitments. A maximum four candidates that have each made all of the following commitments will be able to obtain blocks of 50 MHz of spectrum:

  • 5G to foster competitiveness in other sectors of the French economy: To lay the groundwork for enterprises’ future connectivity, Arcep has established an unprecedented mechanism that would have operators commit to granting reasonable requests from economic actors (business, local authorities, administrations…) by providing them with customised solutions in terms of coverage and performance or, if the operator prefers, by assigning its frequencies locally.
  • Indoor coverage: Arcep has also provided for commitments that seek to improve indoor coveragefor business and commercial purposes, and to facilitate coverage by multiple operators.
  • Fixed access products: Commitments also concern the supply of dedicated fixed access products on mobile networks.
  • Greater transparency: The commitments include increasing operators’ transparency, both on their rollout forecasts and service outages.
  • Bolster innovation and competition: Lastly, commitments are proposed to improve MVNO hosting on operators’ 5G networks, in particular to stimulate innovation from all the sector’s players.

Licence duration and rendez-vous clause

The frequencies will be allocated for a period of 15 years. This duration will be extended by five years if the licence-holder agrees to the conditions attached to this extension.

In addition, two interim reviews are scheduled for 2023 and before 2028 to verify operators’ implementation of their obligations, along with market requirements, notably in the areas of mobile network coverage and quality of service. Obligations could be revised based on the findings of these reviews, after having reached an agreement with the licence-holder.

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