France’s 5G frequencies auction to start in autumn, minister tells Le Figaro

January 31, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s 5G telecoms frequencies auction will start this autumn, with licenses expected to be given at the start of 2020, junior minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday.

France’s four main telecoms operators Orange, Bouygues Telecom, Altice Europe’s SFR and Iliad regularly compete in costly spectrum auctions, which allow wireless carriers to develop networks.

“The government will fix the political framework in spring. Arcep (the telecoms regulator) will then establish the specific requirements, which will be certified in autumn,” Pannier-Runacher told Le Figaro.

“The auction will then be launched with attributions at the start of 2020,” she added.

Investors are concerned about the potential hefty price French telecom operators could end up paying in the auction amid a protracted pricing war that is weighing on profit margins.

Italy, one of the first European countries to offer frequencies for 5G services, stunned markets by raising a bumper 6.5 billion euros ($7.5 billion) for state coffers in its auction.

“There’s a fine balance between state budget issues and telecom operator’s financial capacities to buy frequencies and then deploy a network,” Pannier-Runacher said.

The junior minister denied new legislation to increase controls of telecoms infrastructure was aimed at Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei.

“There’s no such hidden agenda,” she said. “We need to both remain vigilant on critical equipments and acknowledge the quality of Huawei’s equipments.”

The United States has shut Chinese vendors out of government contracts on security grounds. Huawei denies its equipment includes ‘back doors’ open to cyber-espionage.

Asked about Huawei in a separate interview with French newspaper Les Echos, the head of Arcep, Sebastien Soriano, said the 5G network could be deployed even with the banning of some equipment makers.

“It’s absolutely not incompatible,” he said.

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gilles Guillaume; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter)