France's 5G spectrum auction planned for end September: watchdog

PARIS (Reuters) - France plans to hold its 5G spectrum auction at the end of September after repeated delays, the country’s telecoms watchdog Arcep said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: 3D-printed objects representing 5G are put on a motherboard in this picture illustration taken April 24, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic /Illustration/File Photo

The auction, first planned for January, was postponed following disagreements between the French finance ministry and the watchdog and then because of the coronavirus outbreak.

It will now take place in the last ten days of September, Arcep said in a statement.

The exact date has yet to be fixed, Arcep’s president Sébastien Soriano told reporters.

Radio frequencies provide the raw material for wireless carriers to develop networks. Such auctions have represented an easy money-maker for European countries, including France.

The country’s four telecoms operators - Bouygues Telecom, Iliad, Orange and Altice Europe’s SFR - submitted tender packages for some frequencies at a fixed price in February.

The government has said the overall 5G spectrum would have to yield at least 2.17 billion euros ($2.47 billion)..

That represents the floor price at which the government is ready to sell 310 MHz. It has already agreed to sell a bloc of 50 MHz to each telecoms operator for 350 million euros, or 1.4 billion euros in total.

The remaining 110 MHz are to be sold during the auction, by bloc of 10 MHz and at a minimum of 70 million euros, or 770 million euros in total.

The auction date will likely disappoint Bouygues Telecom, which has called for a deferral until late 2020 or early 2021 because of uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus crisis.

In view of these concerns, Soriano said he dropped a requirement for operators to cover at least two French cities with the new 5G technology by the end of the year.

“The four operators retain full commercial freedom not to launch 5G in the coming months,” he said.

Germany and Italy have raised about 6.5 billion euros each through 5G spectrum auctions, an amount that shocked the industry and raised concerns among the four French telecoms operators whose margins have been eroded by a protracted price war.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Editing by Sarah White and Barbara Lewis