With the reuse of 900 MHz frequencies, 3G will cover almost the entire population

Paris, 27 February 2008

The new generation of mobile networks is going to considerably speed up the development and the ubiquity of the mobile Internet and its innovative services, by offering consumers a mobile access at speeds of several hundred kbit/s. ARCEP considers it essential that as many users as possible have access to mobile third generation services (3G). Access for all French residents to 3G is an important stake in regional development.

Therefore, in accordance with their request, ARCEP is today modifying Orange France and SFR’s authorisations in order to allow them to deploy UMTS technology in Metropolitan France in the 900 MHz band, which is currently used for GSM.

ARCEP proposed also to Bouygues Telecom to reuse the 900 MHz band for 3G. The operator responded that it would deploy UMTS in the 900 MHz band by the end of 2009 and that it would request the modification of its authorisation when it is necessary.

ARCEP is implementing the directions it adopted on 5 July 2007 for the reuse of the 900 and 1800 MHz bands for 3G. These directions planned that 2G-3G operators wishing to do so would be allowed to reuse the 900 MHz band for 3G in 2008, and that a 3G new entrant authorised in the 2.1 GHz band would be given access to a UMTS channel in the 900 MHz band.

The reuse of the 900 MHz band will help UMTS reach a coverage rate similar to GSM

3G coverage is now relatively extensive in Metropolitan France: SFR reports covering over 70% of the population and Orange France should reach this degree of coverage by the end of 2008. To extend coverage even further, it is indispensable that the frequencies in the 900 MHz band, which are currently used for 2G, be reused. These frequencies have better propagation properties and penetrate better inside buildings than frequencies in the 2.1 GHz band in which 3G currently operates.

Starting in 2008, 900 MHz frequencies will be progressively reused for 3G thanks to the future availability of equipments. This switchover will have to be done transparently for GSM, which will have to continue to serve French customers and foreign visitors with the same quality of service for many years to come.

The deployment in the 900 MHz band will make it possible to extend the UMTS coverage by reusing the sites which are currently used for GSM, including sites which were deployed as part of the "white zones" programme to complete the GSM coverage of the territory.

The reuse of 900 MHz frequencies will help 3G reach a degree of coverage similar to that of GSM, and offer consumers a mobile access at speeds of several hundred kbit/s. The principle of this reuse had been planned since 2000 in the 3G application procedures, and its prospect made it possible for operators to commit to high deployment levels.

Otherwise, access to new frequencies under 1 GHz made available thanks to the digital dividend will be essential to cover the territory with the data rates over 10 Mbit/s that are expected for the next decade through the technologies that will follow 3G.

ARCEP will closely monitor the third coverage deadline written in the mobile operators’ 3G licences

Now that UMTS has picked up steam and that the possibility of reusing 900 MHz frequencies has become available, operators must respect the deployment obligations stipulated by their 3G licences. SFR and Orange France’s third coverage deadline, which arrives on 21 August 2009, requires coverage of 99.3% and 98% of the population, respectively. ARCEP will closely monitor these deployment obligations.

ARCEP is also closely watching Bouygues Telecom’s deployment. The third coverage deadline stipulated by Bouygues Telecom’s 3G licence is in December 2010 and corresponds to 75% of the population.

The process includes the possibility of a fourth 3G operator having access to the 900 MHz band

The process implemented today protects the possibility of access to the 900 MHz frequencies for a possible new 3G entrant. Such an operator would have access to a UMTS channel in the 900 MHz band, once part of this spectrum has been returned by existing 2G operators, as decided by ARCEP on 5 July 2007 (pdf (pdf - 63 Ko) - ).

In order to ensure that the reuse of 900 MHz frequencies for 3G does not affect future decisions concerning the fourth 3G licence, ARCEP is now adding to the operators’ licence a conditional, time-limited measure describing the means of returning frequencies which would apply if a new 3G entrant were authorised.