UNHEARD of internet speeds and unheard of access are on the way as digital economy minister Eric Besson started the auction for the new range of 4G wireless frequencies.
Mr Besson set the minimum price for the whole group of frequencies at €2.5 billion but added in measures to make sure that networks also provide cover in internet shadow zones to give equal access throughout France.
The new 4G – for fourth generation – mobile broadband networks will allow smartphone and tablet users high-speed access to videos, films and music all while surfing the internet, sending emails and making calls. Data traffic has soared over the internet and 4G allows speeds of between 100Mbps and 1Gbps, compared to 15Mbps for the fastest 3G link.
France is Europe’s third-biggest mobile communications market and Mr Besson said the 4G frequencies were a strategic asset that would not be “sold on the cheap”. He priced them in four groups, with the aim of bringing in more than €2.5bn.
He said that the frequencies were available because the anologue TV network is being phased out by the end of November and they would be available to operators from December 1. Bids open in June with a decision in October and November.
The high-quality 800Mhz band is split into four groups raising a minimum of €1.8bn while the 2.6Ghz band will be made up of 14 lots to bring in at least €700 million. No more frequencies are expected to be available for 10 years.
Mobile phone companies bidding for the services are France Telecom, Vivendi's SFR, Bouygues, and Free’s Iliad and Mr Besson set them an incentive by saying a fifth operator could be introduced.
Each operator must get access to the new networks because there has been a vast increase in data communication and 4G is the only way to match speeds.
However, SFR, Bouygues and Iliad all fear that France Telecom’s Orange network has too much money behind it and that they will be priced out of the service. Mr Besson has limited the scope of one company to control the whole network.
As with the introduction of 2G and 3G technology, it also means wholescale investment in new mobile phones and network infrastructure.
This allowed Mr Besson to demand there be more universal coverage, with a wireless internet priority zone covering 80% of the land area which has just 18% of the population. He has also told operators to cover a minimum of 90% of the population in each department within 12 years.