ARCEP gives wireless local loop (WLL) projects one last chance

Paris, 23 November 2012

Following a call for applications in 2005, which attracted a great deal of interest from private companies and local authorities, ARCEP issued wireless local loop (WLL) licences in the 3.4 - 3.6 GHz band in 2006. The purpose of these allocations was to enable the supply of fixed internet access over radio frequencies, particularly in those parts of the country with no ADSL coverage.

When checking the status of these rollouts as of 31 December 2010, as stipulated in the terms of the licences, ARCEP ascertained - as it had already done back in 2008 - that deployments continued by and large to fall short of the commitments made by the licence-holders. ARCEP also noted that most existing systems had been deployed by local authorities as part of their public-initiative networks, to supply WiMAX-based access those areas not covered by wireline broadband solutions.

In November 2011, seven WLL licence-holders were sent a notice to comply with their rollout commitments. These procedures resulted in some operators reaching the conclusion that they would be unable to use their frequencies in the foreseeable future, and so relinquishing either all or some of that spectrum.

The first deadline attached to these notices to comply was on 30 June 2012 and concerned the firms Altitude Wireless, Bolloré Telecom and La Société du Haut Débit (SHD).

After having heard from each of these three companies during public hearings, ARCEP's Executive Board concluded that they had failed to meet their rollout obligations - to varying degrees depending on the operator and on the regions in question.

These partial deployments are due in part to delays in the industrial ecosystem, despite the expected timetables that had been agreed upon during the WLL delivery procedures. Competition from other technologies (copper pair, optical fibre, satellite, local Wi-Fi networks and 3G mobile systems) may also have hampered the sale of WiMAX solutions and slowed down deployments.

Under the present circumstances, given this band's particular ecosystem and the lack of interest coming from other players, ARCEP concluded that penalising existing licence-holders by revoking their licences would not, in the short term, guarantee optimal use of the State-owned asset that these frequencies represent. It also concluded that a financial penalty would not serve to encourage deployments or investments in these frequencies and technologies.

The Authority therefore decided not to penalise the firms SHD and Altitude, in view of the commitments they have made: either to perform rollouts in the near future, or to continue their efforts to make their spectrum available to local authorities for their public-initiative networks, or to hand back their licences for certain departments where there are no concrete plans for rollouts by either public or private players.

The Authority also decided not to penalise the firm Bolloré Telecom which has committed to meeting all of its rollout obligations by 2017, and to continue its policy of making spectrum available to local authorities who request it, in a lasting and foreseeable fashion. Bolloré Telecom has also committed to automatically relinquishing its frequencies in a way that is proportionate to any future failure to meet these commitments, but at minimum on a department-wide scale. In addition, the Bolloré group has committed to retaining full ownership of Bolloré Telecom until the end of 2017.

ARCEP will work to ensure that those operators who have restated their interest for WLL frequencies take a proactive approach to the investments and rollouts needed to ensure that this intangible State asset is used effectively. This will be done through a system of annual check-ups.