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French Regulator to Monitor Rural Coverage Quality

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France's telecoms regulator, Arcep is launching its first observatory for monitoring mobile operators' deployments in sparsely populated areas. The purpose of this quarterly observatory is to shed light on the status of mobile operators' deployments in relation to their 2G, 3G and 4G rollout obligations in sparsely populated areas. It therefore adds a further dimension to the report on mobile operators' investment efforts that Arcep published in December 2015.

The observatory will provide a status report on a series of obligations to which operators are subject, and which were established either by the government-led programme to ensure 2G and 3G coverage in town centres, or attached to operators' frequency licences which have several deadlines coming up. The published data are based on operators' statements, which Arcep will verify through regular testing in the field.

As a reminder, operators are together required to provide - by means of a partially government-funded, shared network infrastructure - basic coverage in a certain number of town centres which the State has identified as entirely bereft of mobile services. This programme is sometimes referred to as the "town-centre not-spot programme". The Act on Growth, Business and Equal economic opportunity of 6 August 2015 initiated a new census of uncovered town centres, which was conducted in 2015: more than 250 additional town centres were identified, and will be added to the programme that began in 2003. Operators are already committed to providing around 3,600 town centres with at least 2G coverage by 31 December 2016 and with 3G coverage by 30 June 2017, or at most within 6 months of government authorities having made a tower available.

For 4G rollouts, the Government and Parliament had set a priority digital regional rollout objective when allocating the 800 MHz band - the so-called "golden frequency" from the first digital dividend. As a result, the coverage obligations that Arcep imposed on operators when granting their 4G frequency licences aimed to achieve broader coverage than the targets set by the town-centre programme: more than 22,500 rural municipalities, representing 18% of the population but 63% of the country's land mass, constitute this "sparsely populated area" - referred to as the "priority rollout area". Operators that have been granted a 4G licence in the 800 MHz band (Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR) must cover 40% of the population in this sparsely populated area with the 800 MHz band by 17 January 2017. Because it does not have any 800 MHz band spectrum, Free Mobile is not subject to this obligation. It is, however, required to be providing 4G coverage to 50% of the population in this area by 17 January 2022, using the 700 MHz band.

From now on, ARCEP will publish a quarterly status report on mobile rollouts in these areas. As a result, every quarter, it will provide an open data report on the state of progress in the town-centre coverage programme, town by town. In this way, ARCEP plans to ensure that operators take all of the necessary steps to meet their obligations, and will work to ensure their compliance.

Providing 4G coverage in sparsely populated areas: Bouygues Telecom and SFR given notice to meet their next deadline

As indicated above, under the terms of their 4G licences, Bouygues Telecom, Orange and SFR are required to cover 40% of the population in sparsely populated areas - i.e. the priority rollout area - by 17 January 2017. As of 1 January 2016, Bouygues Telecom and SFR reported covering only 12% and 8% of the population of this area, respectively, whereas Orange was covering close to 33%. As a result, the first two operators have been ordered to meet the obligations set for the 17 January 2017 deadline. ARCEP will ensure that all three operators satisfy their obligations.

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Tags: arcep  France