The move is in response to criticism that France is lagging behind its neighbours
The French telecoms regulator Arcep and two government ministers have announced access frequencies in the 3.8GHz-4.0GHz band for companies to experiment with.
A 100MHz block of spectrum will be on offer for three years to sectors from manufacturing to logistics, energy, health and smart cities, among others. Applications for spectrum must be submitted by the end of this year.
The regulator said that a “mature and varied ecosystem of terminals and equipment” is available to participants wishing to use this spectrum.
French enterprises already have access to frequencies in the 2.6GHz and 26GHz bands, primarily for private mobile networks.
To streamline the process for accessing the 2.6GHz TDD band, a new portal shows where frequencies are available.
The French government, led by Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Minister Delegate for Industry, and Cédric O, Secretary of State for Digital Transition and Electronic Communications, is reacting to a critical report published by Philippe Herbert, President of the Mission 5G Industrielle.
The report listed seven reasons why France has fallen behind in its industrial use of 5G: lack of access to spectrum; a lack of equipment and services; shortage of skills, and the immaturity of the French and wider European industrial 5G ecosystems.
Clearly France’s strategy has not gone to plan.
At the start, it looked like France might take the lead in industries’ use of 5G: for example, at a summit in April 2019, Orange, the country’s largest carrier – attended by government ministers including Pannier-Runacher – announced its primary focus was on industrial uses of 5G and lined up partners to work with on use cases.
Orange Group’s Chairman and CEO, Stéphane Richard, said at the summit, “This is something we have to do together, there’s no point waiting for the bidding or deployment to begin. France should make sure it’s not lagging behind, quite the opposite: we want to be ahead of competitors.”
He added, “Rolling out 5G in full will take time. The spectrum auction will take place, then initial B2B uses, then it will become into general use for the general public.
He also urged more businesses to work with Orange so that as partners they could co-create the “right” use cases.
Not so fast
In the event, France was the last major European economy to hold 5G spectrum auctions, which were completed in October 2020.
France’s mobile operators are obliged to support industrial players, for example, with the provision of dedicated 5G slices in the 3.4GHz-3.8GHz band, but this obligation is no match for the support given to enterprises by the Germany regulator.
The Bundesnetzagentur or BNetzA invited applications for local licences in the 3.7GHz/3.8GHz band for industrial use cases in late 2019, then offered spectrum in the 26GHz band in January 2021. It has awarded more than 200 licences to enterprises so far.