The French regulatory authority ART has today published a consultation document, containing its proposals, as well as 45 questions, relating to the granting of frequencies for new networks making use of equipment operating according to the IEEE 802.16 series and ETSI HiperMAN standards. These emerging standards are supported by the WiMAX forum, and the ART acknowledges this fact.

This consultation follows the ART’s statement of 13 May 2004, which constituted a decision to freeze the ‘region-by-region, first-come-first-served’ frequency assignment system in the 3,5 GHz band. The freeze was motivated by the increasing number of expressions of interest the ART has been receiving since February 2004.

One wireless local access operator (Altitude Télécom) is currently active in the 3,4–3,6 GHz band, and has been granted 15 MHz duplex. Another 15 MHz duplex in the same band is free (the frequencies were returned to the regulatory authority by failed wireless local loop operators). The 3,6–3,8 GHz band is currently used locally for point-to-point audiovisual signal transport, not for wireless local access.

In essence, the ART’s proposals are as follows:

“Very local” frequency assignments (category 2 of the consultation document*, concerning projects aiming at covering, as a maximum, one or two towns in low-density areas) should, according to the ART, be non-problematic in the 3,6–3,8 GHz band, insofar as appropriate frequency co-ordination occurs. In addition, the 3,6–3,8 GHz band could be wholly or partially vacated by its current users, insofar as proper technical and financial conditions can be agreed. Therefore, the ART concludes that frequencies are unlikely to be scarce in the short term and that a ‘first-come-first-served’ frequency assignment system (with associated conditions) seems viable for projects aiming at covering small areas in low-density areas. Frequencies could be assigned in 1,75 MHz channels, with a maximum of 7 MHz per operator in a given area.

As regards the larger projects (categories 1a and 1b of the consultation document*), the ART does not make tangible proposals, but asks many questions. It does state that category 1a) and 1b) projects should operate in the 15 MHz duplex which is available in the 3,4–3,6 GHz band, and that a mechanism is needed to select the operators that will be granted the right to use these frequencies. The key question put up for consultation by the ART is how to define the geographical areas (by Département, by Région, other categorisations?), and hence the maximum number of operators and the frequency assignment system. The ART expresses its view that granting less than 15 MHz duplex to a given operator may be problematic, especially for the larger projects, but asks interested parties to comment on the minimum amount of spectrum necessary for their projects.

The ART also invites comments as to whether a ‘beauty contest’ or an auction would be the preferable approach to assign the frequencies for the category 1a and 1b projects, and which terms and conditions should be attached to right to use frequencies, including in terms of minimum geographic coverage and minimum time for the network to 'go live'. It also floats the idea of requiring open network access (without further specifying exactly what this would entail), and asks interested parties to comment on this.

The consultation document also briefly addresses frequency trading across the 3,4-3,8 GHz band, which will be allowed (under strict conditions) once the new Law on electronic communications is published and the possible link with other frequency bands (substitutability or complementarity), in particular the 5470-5725 MHz band.

The deadline for responding to the ART consultation is 30 Sep 2004.

The full text (in French) of the ART consultation document can be accessed by clicking here. (an English language translation will be published by the ART)

(*) The categories put forward by the ART, which are themselves subject to consultation, are described in the second part of this news item.

The ART has categorised the expressions of interest it received, and is using that categorisation as the basis for its public consultation, as follows:

Category 1a): Large regional or multi-regional projects, put forward by telecommunications operators seeking to compete on the market for fixed broadband access services, in cities and in other relatively densely populated areas.

Category 1b): Medium-sized projects (often of the size of a French Département), put forward by operators and public sector entities, seeking to provide fixed broadband access in areas where broadband access is currently lacking.

Category 2): Local projects, put forward by municipalities or groups of municipalities, seeking to develop broadband access locally (one or two towns).

T-REGS note: French municipalities and groups of municipalities have just recently been allowed, under certain conditions, to become full-service telecommunications operators. This development, including a summary of the conditions, is discussed in our news item about the entry into force of the Law on confidence in the digital economy (LCEN).

For a discussion of wireless local access, in France and elsewhere in Europe, please contact Yves Blondeel.