The Autorite de Regulation des Communications Electroniques et des Postes (Arcep) has reportedly expressed reservations with regards to the mobile network sharing deal signed between domestic cellcos SFR and Bouygues Telecom in January 2014, newspaper Les Echos reports. Arcep has previously observed that network sharing proposals have not been ruled out in sparsely populated or ‘priority development’ areas, but they will be examined very carefully on a case-by-case basis. In particular, the regulator is said to be concerned that the network sharing deal will give SFR an unfair advantage over Orange and Free Mobile, in terms of Long Term Evolution (LTE) coverage.
Currently, Bouygues Telecom is the only operator allowed to refarm the 1800MHz band for 4G services, and had permission to operate 6,530 LTE-enabled sites (with 5,579 of these in service) at 1 June 2014, although only 1,495 of its 4,603 BTS in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands are said to be operational. At the same date, Orange France had 6,393 LTE-enabled sites in operation, while SFR and Free trailed behind with 1,675 and 1,380 4G sites, respectively. Les Echos points out that the Autorite de la Concurrence (Competition Authority), which needs to hand down its decision on the sharing deal in September 2014, might impose ‘conservative measures’ on the Bouygues-SFR agreement, and allow LTE network sharing to last just two years, during which period SFR will be required to invest in its own LTE infrastructure.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the Bouygues-SFR network sharing deal was sealed at the end of January 2014; under the terms of the agreement, Bouygues and SFR will create a joint venture company to operate 11,500 mobile towers covering 57% of the population in underserved areas, eliminating 7,000 towers between them. They will share cell sites and antennas but not spectrum or core elements of the network, which they say will allow them to offer differentiated services to consumers. Following the strategic agreement, Bouygues Telecom and SFR expect to reap EUR300 million a year in cost savings by 2017/18.