Arcep cracks whip to compel French operators to broaden LTE coverage

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Operators in France will hugely expand their 4G footprints under the terms of a new deal with the country’s authorities.

The agreement with the Government and French regulator Arcep sees MNOs committing to deploying 5,000 new cell sites each to target specific areas of France over the next three years. Some are expected to be shared by more than one provider.

Operators will also aim to achieve ubiquitous 4G coverage by upgrading all of their cell sites, which will extend the service's availability to over a million additional people. They will include ensuring that all major roads and railways have 4G coverage.

The agreement also focuses on traditional telephony and SMS, with operators required to achieve ubiquitous indoor telephone coverage, which Arcep expects will be achieved primarily through voice over Wi-Fi.

They must also be able to offer “good coverage” across the whole country. This will be measured against Arcep’s guidelines, which define it as people being able to text and phone outside of buildings at most times and sometimes inside buildings.

The targets will be binding, with operators potentially facing sanctions if they fail to meet them.

Under the terms of the agreement, Arcep will reportedly extend licence periods instead of holding fresh spectrum auctions.

However, the French regulator did not specify the deadline for operators improving LTE availability or delivering "good coverage". Arcep will report on progress through a quarterly scoreboard and online coverage maps.

The agreement concludes several months of negotiations with the French telecoms industry. In July last year, French President Emmanuel Macron set out new targets to improve the quality and reach of cellular networks.

In a statement, Arcep said the new measures marked “an unprecedented shift in ambition [that would] significantly improve the user experience of mobile coverage in every part of the country”.

The requirements are the latest step in Arcep seeking to boost regional coverage in France, with the likes of Bouygues responding by using new techniques such as fixed wireless access.

2018 will see the regulator beginning work on the reallocation of the 900 and 1800MHz and 2.1GHz bands when their licences expire in the next few years. The procedure will be designed to focus on regional development targets.

Arcep is also working on freeing up 3.5GHz spectrum ahead of the launch of 5G.

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