France begins 5G catch-up mission with September mid-band auction – Telecoms.com

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French regulator Arcep has confirmed that it will auction spectrum licenses in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band, finally marking the start of the country’s 5G era.As the original April auction was delayed, Arcep announced that it would sell 310 MHz of spectrum in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band to Bouygues Telecom, Free Mobile, Orange and SFR. Telecom operators will be free to start commercial sales of 5G contracts in October or November.

While the importance of being the first to provide 5G services has been overwhelmingly inordinate, the value of being the first to expand 5G networks and accelerate adoption should never be understated. New fortunes will be created due to the new dynamics of connectivity, and they will not be distributed evenly around the world. The first launches give you a head start on chasing those rewards, but the ability to scale networks faster is much more important.

A scaled network enables an economy to cultivate a 5G ecosystem, learning from Silicon Valley in the 4G era. Certain areas of the world will become points of wealth creation and concentration, attracting foreign investment in R&D. That’s the power of scaling 5G networks; it gives an economy a greater opportunity to capture newly created fortunes.

This is the challenge currently facing various European countries. France, Spain, Austria, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Poland have all suspended or postponed 5G auctions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The priorities have rightly been moved elsewhere, but this has left operators without the precious critical spectrum to offer a 5G commercial offering.

French authorities have announced that the reorganized auction will take place in September, each of the four telecom operators being guaranteed a 50 MHz block, with a reserve price of 350 million euros. The remaining 110 MHz will be sold in an 11-block secondary auction with a reserve price of € 70 million. Each telecommunications operator will have to launch 5G commercial services in two cities by the end of 2020.


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Fortunately for France and its economy, it will not be too late for the party.

“The delay of a few months is not a problem at all,” said Dario Talmesio of analyst firm Omdia. “The important thing is to scale up quickly and be the first on the ladder.

“You have the first high-speed train in the world, but if it’s only a kilometer away: good luck selling tickets. We have looked at just about all 4G launches and recent 5G launches and we can see that the successful operators are the ones that can scale quickly. And by scale, we mean not only the customer base or the network, but the whole preposition.

“This is particularly evident in the consumer smartphone, but it will become even more relevant in 5G, since the 5G platform will be used not only by consumers, but by practically all sectors of the economy.”

Some countries are accelerating and some are progressing slowly. China, for example, is rapidly expanding its 5G footprint, Omdia suggesting that telecom operators could have collectively deployed 300,000 5G base stations by the end of the year. For comparison, the British regulator Ofcom estimates that there are around 40,000 cell sites in the UK in total.

China was not one of the first nations to launch 5G commercial services, but it is very comfortably in the “quick tracker” column. For example, China Mobile hopes to have 70 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2020.

This subscriber base combined with a large network providing services with a spectrum license portfolio and a supporting ecosystem is what we mean by scale. These three elements can be combined to ensure that the domestic economy benefits from 5G, providing a launch pad for international expansion, while China will appear increasingly popular with foreign investment due to this economy defined by 5G.

Looking at the “firsts” of 5G, there are certainly two different stories.

Depending on who you’re talking about, the United States or South Korea were the first to launch 5G commercial services in the later stages of 2019. Since then, there have been different success stories.

5G subscribers 2019-20 (thousands)
Country 2019 2020 Population penetration (2020)
United States 587 13,669 4%
United Kingdom 975 4,529 7%
South Korea 4668 8,728 17%
France 613 > 1%
China 8,160 44,662 3%

Source: Omdia World Information Series

South Korea has rapidly expanded its network deployment, generating good subscriber numbers. On the surface, the American approach seems competent, but you have to assess the three different components to understand if the scale has been reached.

The United States does have a support ecosystem, yes. Does he have subscribers, perhaps. Does he have the network, no.

Currently, only T-Mobile US is able to provide competent 5G service because it is the only telecommunications operator to have access to the mid-range spectrum. mmWave has not lived up to expectations, coverage is unfortunately poor, while the price of 5G in the United States may still be too high.

When we asked Telecoms.com readers about the importance of medium band spectrum, 67% responded that if a telecommunications operator does not have access to medium band assets, you cannot provide competent service . Only 3% said the industry should pay more attention to mmWave, while 15% said the importance of spectrum in the middle band is overestimated.

One of the most interesting elements of this puzzle is that the majority of other countries prioritize the medium spectrum. If a country wants to export services and products, those that are most demanding will be those designed for the dynamics of connectivity that is crumbling. If the United States does not have access to the medium spectrum, it cannot design and validate new products and services. It cannot export what it does not have.

Being “first” means something, but not much in the long run, unless the other components of the 5G mix are addressed. The United States is currently discovering it, although it has launched several initiatives to release a precious median spectrum.

France is only at the beginning of its journey, and although there is ground to catch up thanks to deferred auctions, it has the advantage of learning the lessons of the first adopters, and there have certainly been teething pain.

The late launch of 5G services does not mean that France will have trouble capturing the newly created 5G revenues, but it will have to energetically accelerate the deployment of the network on a large scale, guarantee that 5G tariffs are reasonably priced to guarantee adoption and nurturing a support ecosystem carefully.


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