France will flog off 700MHz to boost mobe broadband while UK dithers. Thanks, Ofcom

Vids, Internet of Things driving the agenda

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Updated British mobile phone coverage will lag further behind the rest of Europe this year: now the French are auctioning off valuable spectrum space, at 700MHz, to high-speed mobile networks.

Ofcom, in its recent strategy review, said it’s targeting 2022 for a similar allocation (although possibly sooner).

However, its French equivalent ARCEP (l'Autorité de Régulation des Communications Electroniques et des Postes) has now published a summary of 46 consultations it has received for allocating those particular airwaves to mobile broadband soon.

Like the UK, France currently uses 700MHz for digital terrestrial telly (that's Freeview to you and me).

The report says that a large number of respondents saw significant upcoming growth in mobile traffic driven by mobile video and so-called Internet of Things applications.

Survey respondents who work in security and defence wanted to see the allocation given to supporting their customers using push-to-talk and direct mode.

There's pressure on all the world’s emergency services to move to 4G and this may help drive the UK timescales, as the UK emergency system in currently in omnishambles.

Suppliers to the Gendarmerie and the like wanted 2x10MHz of their very own.

ARCEP asked the respondents when 2G and 3G could be switched off, but got the response that it’s too important for that to happen just yet. Too many roaming customers want to use 3G, and 2G technology is in a lot of machine-to-machine applications.

WIFI Metropolis, Qualcomm and Bouygues Telecom did, however, feel that this was a passing problem and 4G machine-to-machine would grow very rapidly to take the place of 2G.

Other contributors saw the need for a possible intermediate step, with the creation of a single shared 2G network, which would ensure continuity of 2G services by just having 2x5MHz frequency at 900MHz.

One problem with this is putting 4G on the majority of 900MHz could lead to interference for those 900MHz users still on GSM. For machine-to-machine, much of this uses SMS as the bearer, hence it’s not an issue. However, it does matter for voice services and the railways, including those in the UK, which employ GSM-R at 880-915MHz/925-960MHz.

These are critical communication channels, doing things such as stopping trains in an emergency, so there is a lot of sensitivity over the matter. Sadly, it's left unresolved by the report.

ARCEP also asked about modulation, and preferences for frequency (FDD) or time (TDD) division.

Most stakeholders agree that the FDD mode offers better coverage and more efficient management of interference, with TDD being more suited to small cells using high bands and trying to cover larger areas as the synchronisation is better.

One elephant in the room for 700MHz is the availability of equipment. Vodafone recently told El Reg in a briefing that while it thought 2022 was too far off, the major infrastructure and handset vendors were still looking to 2020.

ARCEP asked the same question in its survey and the respondents felt that French regulation would drive the Asian vendors to speed up the production of 700MHz kit, although one network warned that it would be very unlikely that we'd see handsets which could handle both 900MHz GSM and 700MHz LTE.

The French response might not be of direct importance to The Register's readers, most of whom are in the US and UK, but it contains an interesting set of pointers for how Ofcom might consider the way it flogs of future spectrum. ®

Updated to add

An Ofcom spokesman has been in touch to say: “Our plans for the 700MHz band will ensure there’s spectrum to meet consumers’ and business’s needs for years to come. Moving current users out of this band requires carefully planning to ensure minimal disruption."

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