France is to auction 700MHz spectrum frequencies currently used for DTT broadcasting in December next year, with the expectation that they will be transferred to telecom operators between October 2017 and June 2019. In some zones, telcos will be able to use the new frequencies from April 2016.
Local reports suggest that the timing of the auction is seen as premature by a number of leading telco players, who are currently experiencing challenging financial headwinds amid the strong price competition that followed the launch of Free’s low-cost 3G service.
However, Free itself welcome the move unequivocally. The operator did not secure a sought-after 800MHz licence and instead provide a service using frequencies in the less desirable 2600MHz range. CEO Maxime Lombardini, speaking at a company event, said that the government’s move was “a courageous decision that avoided the long debate seen during previous auctions”.
The government’s decision has been less warmly welcomed by broadcasters who are concerned about the impact on the development of the DTT platform and migration of services to HD. The government said it envisaged MPEG-4 replacing MPEG-2 for all services in 2016. It said a plan would be put in place to ensure that households with MPEG-2 equipment did not lose out.
The government has already revealed that it expects the sale of 700MHz frequencies to generate just over €2 billion in revenues next year.