Free Mobile, Orange win two blocks each in French 700MHz auction

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Free Mobile and Orange were the big winners in the French 700MHz spectrum auction, which raised €2.8 billion.

The auction, which closed yesterday and lasted 11 rounds, saw regulator Arcep selling each block of 5MHz duplex for €466 million. Free Mobile and Orange won two blocks, with Bouygues and SFR awarded one block.

The operators have until tomorrow (19 November) to submit their preferences for exactly what position they want on the band. Spectrum is available between the 703MHz and 733MHz bands, and the 758MHz and 788MHz bands.

Operators must specify how much of a premium they are willing to pay for their first choice. They will pay two thirds of this if they get their second choice, a third for their third choice and nothing for their last.

In a statement, Orange said the result was a "major milestone" for the operator's French business. It said: "It is an essential industrial investment that will enable the Group to reinforce its position as a leader in very high-speed mobile broadband, allowing its retail and enterprise customers to benefit from 2020 and the following decade."

[Read more - Orange plays it safe with connected objects, mobile banking focus in new strategic plan]

The operator said the spectrum was particularly well suited for indoor and rural coverage as well as laying the foundations for its forthcoming 5G network.

Free Mobile's parent company Iliad said the spectrum would mean it now holds a total of 55MHz across 3G and 4G. It said: "Free Mobile’s 4G network now covers around 60% of the French population and it has 5,400 4G sites in service, the majority of which are fiberconnected."

Bouygues claimed its win meant it now had the best ratio of MHz to customers in the French market. It now holds a quarter of total spectrum. It said: "This wide and comprehensive range of frequencies will bolster Bouygues Telecom's strategy aimed at underpinning growth in mobile data use, thus enabling it to maintain its leadership in 4G."