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Secret decision to auction France’s 700MHz band to telcos in November 2015 – La Tribune

The French government has secretly taken the decision to auction off the 700MHz band – currently allocated to DTT broadcasts – for mobile broadband use in November 2015, according to the French newspaper La Tribune. The move would delay the planned switch to HD of France’s DTT platform.

According to La Tribune’s sources, there is no appeal against the decision, which has been taken “behind closed doors” in a “somewhat cavalier” manner.

The news has angered both the TV industry and the mobile sector, the paper says. It quotes Alan Weill, chief executive of NextRadio/TV, as saying that “this would be suicidal for terrestrial distribution and would weaken DTT.”

The French mobile sector, which spent €3.6bn acquiring 4G frequencies in 2011-12, is none too pleased either. One senior telco executive quoted by La Tribune protested that “what we need is a transfusion and instead they’re asking us to become blood donors!”

The government’s rationale for the move – taken at an inter-ministerial summit – is apparently a potential shortfall in the Defence budget.

Following the summit, the two regulators involved, the CSA and ARCEP, were instructed to launch industry consultations about selling-off the spectrum to telcos “to generate revenues for the State as soon as possible, by the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015.”

One exasperated operator told La Tribune that he was invited to attend a meeting in May with the secretariat of the minister concerned, Fleur Pellerin (whose portfolio includes Innovation and the Digital Economy), at which they were told “we would need to pay up in 2014 for frequencies which would only be granted to us in 2017-18!”.

However, a government source told the paper that “No-one believes in an allocation scenario as early as 2014, the probability of that happening is 5% at best.”

The central scenario the government is working on, which should be defined by September, ahead of next year’s finance bill being agreed, assumes a formal launch of the auction procedure with a view to the frequencies being allocated in November-December 2015.

This will coincide with the global frequency co-ordination conference (CRM2015), which will determine the timescale for the 700MHz frequency band switch in Europe and Africa.

For the TV industry, the plan would still guarantee all the DTT channels moving to HD, but in two phases – 2015 and 2023 – using DVB-T2 and the new HEVC coding standard.

This harks back to the CSA’s own previous proposals for the introduction of the two new standards (DTT in France uses DVB-T, with a combination of MPEG-2 and MPEG-4), although the government’s proposed time-frame is much slower.

The CSA had proposed that DVB-T2 and HEVC could be used to launch a UHDTV service in 2018.

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