The French government published terms for the 4G auctions in the French Official Journal on June 15. The deadline for submitting applications to the regulator ARCEP are 12pm on September 15, 2011 for the 2.6 GHz and 12pm on December 15, 2011 for the 800 MHz (these referenced documents are in French only). ARCEP will conduct sealed bid auctions to allocate 2.6 GHz frequencies in autumn 2011 and 800 MHz spectrum at the beginning of 2012.

France set a €50 million standard reserve price for each duplex 5 MHz block in the 2.6 GHz frequencies, with varying reserves in the 800 MHz band in the following amounts:

  • €400 million for the 791 - 801 MHz and 832 - 842 MHz block (2 x 10 MHz)
  • €300 million for the 801 - 806 MHz and 842 - 847 MHz block (2 x 5 MHz)
  • €300 million for the 806 - 811 MHz and 847 - 852 MHz block (2 x 5 MHz)
  • €800 million for the 811 - 821 MHz and 852 - 862 MHz block (2 x 10 MHz)

Spectrum caps apply in both bands in order to ensure competition. The cap in the 2.6 GHz band is 2 x 30 MHz. Operators can be awarded no more that 2 x 15 MHz in the 800 MHz band, and any licensee awarded more than 2 x 5 MHz in that band must satisfy reasonable requests for roaming in rural areas from 2.6 GHz operators that were qualified but unsuccessful candidates in the 800 MHz award process. However, in order to be able to benefit from this 800 MHz roaming provision, the operator's 2.6 GHz network must first cover at least 25% of the metropolitan French population. No time limitation is provided for this roaming obligation. From a strategic point of view, this national roaming provision could be attractive for operators who obtain 2.6 GHz spectrum but were unsuccessful in the 800 GHz auction.

It took only a short time for critical appraisals of these 4G award procedures to surface in the press. MVNOs are concerned over the effectiveness of the mechanism provided to encourage operators to work with them. In addition, the CFE-CGC/Unsa trade association threatens to challenge the procedures based on its argument that the selection criteria do not sufficiently promote employment. The trade association also complains that French overseas departments and territories are not included in coverage obligations.