5G regulation and law in France

Information current as of 6 December 2019

What is the state of 5G deployment in France?

No commercial roll-out has been launched yet. However, following the telecommunications regulator’s (the “ARCEP”) draft specification, published on 21 November 2019: (i) the first public auction is expected to be launched in early 2020, with frequencies due to be granted later in 2020; and (ii) commercial deployment should also occur in 2020.

Furthermore, testing has been authorised by the ARCEP:

  • for the 3.4-3.8 GHz frequency band: some of these authorisations have already ended while others are still ongoing (see the box below for the list of authorised participants).
  • for the 26.5 to 27.5 GHz frequency band: eleven authorisations have granted since September 2019;
  • for the 27.5-27.9 GHz frequency band: one authorisation has been granted.

Link to the list and stage of these authorisations.

See the box below for the list of authorised participants.

Which telcos and communications players are launching 5G services?

The four major mobile network operators (Bouygues Telecom, SFR, Orange, and Free) are planning to launch 5G services.

At the moment, the different players who requested and obtained an experimental authorisation are the following (please note that some of these authorisations have expired):

  • Bouygues Telecom
  • Orange
  • SFR
  • Nokia
  • Ericsson
  • the b-com foundation
  • CEA
  • Eurecom
  • Qualcomm
  • France TV
  • SNCF
  • Alcatel-Lucent International
  • Paris La Défense
  • Bordeaux Métropole
  • Grand Port Maritime du Havre
  • Siemens
  • EDF

Are there any public tenders for spectrum licences?


What are the conditions?

Please see the section below on the 5G rules for some insights on the conditions considered for upcoming tenders.

Has there been any comment on when there might be?

The public auction was expected to be launched in Autumn 2019, but due to disagreements between the ARCEP and the Government, it may be delayed to March 2020.

The ARCEP submitted its proposal on 21 November 2019 for the tender conditions, which the Government will likely follow when launching the public auction by March 2020. The proposed tender conditions are as follows:

  • 310 MHz will be granted in total, between the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz band;
  • each of the four major mobile network operators in France (Orange, Bouygues Telecom, SFR and Free) will receive a 50 MHz band for an amount of EUR350 million each;
  • the remaining 110 MHz band will be divided into 10 MHz bands and the participants will submit offers for each of these bands, which will be granted to the operator who submits the best bid;
  • the floor price for each of these 10MHz bands is fixed at EUR70 million.

These conditions are the outcome of the compromise between the ARCEP and the Government: the former required 60MHz to be granted to each operator and a cheaper floor price (EUR1.5 billion in total) while the latter wanted to reduce the fix band to 40 MHz in order to increase the benefits of the bidding section.

What has the government said regarding spectrum licences for commercial use?

The ARCEP summarizes the position adopted by French authorities regarding 5G:

  • the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz and 24.25 to 27.5 GHz frequency bands have been partially granted to operators through experimental authorisations (see above) and this will continue until July 2026. After this date, there may be some adjustments to these figures;
  • the 3.4 to 3.8 GHz frequency band will be subject to a public auction to be launched at the beginning of 2020 (see above), with 310 MHz expected to be granted in 2020, for commercial deployment to take place the same year;
  • the ARCEP expects that two thirds of the French population will have access to 5G by 2025

Are the rules for 5G already drafted, and if so, what do they say?

Directive 2019/1972 establishing the European Electronic Communications Code was adopted on 11 December 2018. It will come into force on 20 December 2020 and shall be transposed by the Member States on such date, at the latest. Concerning 5G, paragraph 135 specifies:

“In order to ensure increased coordinated availabilities of radio spectrum by 2020 to achieve very high speed fixed and wireless networks in the context of 5G, the 3.4-3.8 GHz and the 24.25-27.5 GHz bands have been identified by the RSPG [Radio Spectrum Policy Group] as priority bands suitable to fulfil the objectives of the 5G Action Plan by 2020. The 40.5-43.5 GHz and 66-71 GHz bands have also been identified for further study. It is therefore necessary to ensure that, by 31 December 2020, the 3.4-3.8 GHz and the 24.25-27.5 GHz bands or parts thereof are available for terrestrial systems capable of providing wireless broadband services under harmonised conditions established by technical implementing measures adopted in accordance with Article 4 of Decision No 676/2002/EC, complementing Decision (EU) 2017/899 of the European Parliament and of the Council (33), as those bands have specific qualities, in terms of coverage and data capacity, which allow them to be combined appropriately to meet 5G requirements.”

Furthermore, the RSPG released on 30 January 2019 its third opinion to the European Commission on 5G implementation challenges.

Concerning the 3.4 - 3.8 GHz band, the European Commission’s Decision 2008/411/EC harmonises the technical conditions for the use of the spectrum according to the temporal duplexing mode (TDD) in 5 MHz blocks. This EC decision was recently amended by decision 2019/235 of 24 January 2019.

Concerning the availability of the 3.4 -3.8 GHz band on national level, please see the answer to the above question.

Concerning the definition of the 24.25-27.5 GHz band, the European Commission adopted Decision 2019/784 of 14 May 2019 harmonising this frequency band.

Concerning the availability of the 24.25-27.5 GHz band, on national level, please see the answer to the above question.

As regards the obligations of future holders of spectrum licences, they have been examined as part of a public consultation organised from October to December 2018. In particular, the ARCEP considered the following in its consultation document:

  • increasing the obligations to cover transport axes (to widen the scope by including other transport axes, and/or impose obligations on quality of service);
  • introducing an obligation for holders of spectrum licences to comply with reasonable requests for services delivered by vertical players (e.g. by deploying on demand a 5G solution adapted to the specific need of the applicant and offering the service at a reasonable price, or by making the frequencies available to a third party, which could be the service applicant itself, so that the third party builds and operates the network to provide the requested service);
  • defining obligations on network coverage inside buildings;
  • introducing conditional use of frequencies (mechanism that allows the holder of an individual authorisation to use part of a frequency band to use other frequencies in the same band if and when all or part of those other frequencies are not used by their holders);
  • capping the amount of frequencies allocated to each winner, in particular because of availability constraints; and
  • considering a general authorisation scheme for the 26 GHz band or opting for an individual authorisation scheme.

A public consultation was organised from 15th July to 4th September 2019 on the upcoming public auction for commercial use of the 3.5 to 3.8 GHz band. The ARCEP’s specification proposal for the public auction was published on 21 November 2019 (see above for the main conditions of this tender) and the next step should be the public auction being launched at the beginning of 2020 by the Government. The main obligations that the mobile operators shall respect pursuant to the draft specifications are the following:

  • each participant shall launch 5G in at least two cities before the end of 2020 and 3,000 sites, 8,000 sites and 10,500 sites shall be opened by each of them in 2022, 2024 and 2025 respectively;
  • for the final two years, 25% of the sites shall be located in lesser populated areas;
  • by 2022, at least 75% of the sites must have a throughput of at least 240 Mbit/s at each site. This obligation will gradually be extended to all sites by 2030;
  • by 2025, highspeed motorway axes shall be covered, and by 2027, all main roads (54,913 km), of at least 100 Mbit/s throughputs at each site;
  • the operators shall activate the most innovative functions of 5G – slicing and the capacity "differentiated services" – by 2023 at the latest in order to cover the needs of the industry as well as automobile, health and telecommunication sectors; and
  • mobile networks shall be compatible with the IPv6 routing protocol.

An Act of the Parliament on the protection of the interests of defence and national security of France regarding operation of mobile radio networks was adopted on 1 August, 2019, in the context of increasing risks with the development of 5G technology. The purpose of this bill is to protect France against the risks of cybersecurity breaches by providing that an administrative authorisation granted by the Prime minister is required for the operation of specific radioelectric devices, organising administrative controls on the compliance with this obligation, and setting criminal sanctions in case of violation of these provisions.

What are or would be the rules for granting competitors access to the new 5G networks, once they are deployed?

Once deployed and granted to operators after a public tender, the authorisations to use the spectrum remain valid until expiry of the duration provided in such authorisations. For instance, the duration of each authorisation granted to operators for the 4G was set for durations ranging from 15 to 20 years. At the expiry of each of these authorisations, new tenders can be launched in order to grant the use of the related spectrum.

The spectrum granted at the end of the upcoming 5G public auction shall last for a fixed period of 15 years, with a potential 5-year extension, pursuant to the draft specifications submitted by the ARCEP to the Government.

Anne Laure Villedieu
Anne-Laure Villedieu