Bouygues gains regulatory permission for 4G at 1800MHz

French telecoms regulator ARCEP has introduced rules allowing Bouygues Telecom, the country’s third-biggest operator, to use its 1800MHz spectrum to provide 4G services.

Until now, the spectrum has been reserved for use with much older, 2G services, but the ARCEP decision means Bouygues (Paris, France) will be able to introduce LTE technology in the 1800MHz band from October 1 this year.

It will, however, be forced to relinquish some of its 1800MHz holdings so it does not gain an unfair advantage over its rivals.

French telecoms regulator ARCEP has introduced rules allowing Bouygues Telecom, the country’s third-biggest operator, to use its 1800MHz spectrum to provide 4G services.

Until now, the spectrum has been reserved for use with much older, 2G services, but the ARCEP decision means Bouygues (Paris, France) will be able to introduce LTE technology in the 1800MHz band from October 1 this year.

It will, however, be forced to relinquish some of its 1800MHz holdings so it does not gain an unfair advantage over its rivals.

By October 1, ARCEP must reduce its 1800MHz holdings from 2×26.6MHz to 2×23.8MHz – the same quantity held by France Telecom (Paris, France) and SFR (Paris, France), the country’s two biggest operators, in metropolitan areas – and it will not be allowed to own more than 2x20MHz from 25 May 2016.

Despite these measures, France Telecom and SFR have reacted angrily to the announcement, arguing that Bouygues Telecom will have the edge in France’s 4G market as a result of the new regulations.

They also insist that freeing up 1800MHz spectrum in this way has an impact on the value of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum they recently paid to use.

France Telecom and SFR can apply to use their own 1800MHz holdings for 4G services, as ARCEP has made clear, but they appear to believe the process of ‘refarming’ would be much more difficult for them than for Bouygues because of their heavier reliance on the spectrum.

Bouygues now has just one month to notify ARCEP of its intention to proceed with 1800MHz refarming and has said it will make its plans known in the next few days.

ARCEP is not the only European regulator to have relaxed earlier restrictions on the use of 1800MHz spectrum, which is emerging as an attractive option for the provision of 4G services.

In a high-profile case, the UK’s Ofcom last year allowed the EE (Hatfield, UK) joint venture between France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom (Bonn, Germany) to use 1800MHz spectrum with 4G services.

In that instance, however, the liberalization took place in advance of the country’s 4G auction, prompting complaints from rival operators Vodafone (Newbury, UK) and Telefonica O2 (Slough, UK) that EE would gain a valuable headstart from the move.