Just before Christmas 2011, the French regulator ARCEP announced the result of the auction of the 2×30 MHz spectrum in the 800 MHz digital dividend band. All three incumbents, Orange, SFR and Bouygues each won 2×10 MHz. Free has been unsuccessful to get spectrum directly but SFR is mandated by the spectrum auction terms and conditions to cooperate with Free, (probably) because they have won the 10 MHz that are in the middle of the frequency range.
Unfortunately, the press release does not quite reveal why it is SFR that is specifically required to share their spectrum with Free!? Also, the the 1 billion SFR paid for the middle section is 320 million more than what Bouygues had to pay for the lower section and still another 120 million higher than what Orange had to pay for the high part of the spectrum. Each of them still have 10 MHz. So I am not quite sure why the middle part is the most valuable part of the band. I could imagine that the lower part might imply some more coordination efforts with terrestrial TV transmissions which use the frequency range just below. But the higher part is unaffected by this so why is SFR required to share the network with Free and not Orange? The press release doesn't go into those details so if you know, please leave a comment, I'd be quite interested in this.
Other interesting bits and pieces mentioned in the press release:
- All three network operators have committed to allow "full" Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) in their network. It's not quite clear to me how "full" MVNOs are defined but let's hope it will encourage more competition and thus better prices and conditions for customers in the future compared to the very closed and non-competitive French wireless market compared to other countries in Europe today.
- There are similar requirements as in Germany to ensure the 800 MHz spectrum is first used in rural areas to bring Internet connectivity to under-served areas. From the press release: "[the network operators] must commit to an accelerated rollout schedule in the most sparsely populated parts of the country".