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Orange challenges cheapo French spectrum

€240 pour le radio 3G, arachide!

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The French regulator has put a price tag of €240m on a chunk of spectrum to run a fourth 3G mobile network - a third of the €619m paid by the incumbents, who are not amused and could challenge the decision.

Orange has said it is prepared to take the issue all the way to the European Commission - accusing the French Government of awarding what amounts to state aid to the fourth operator by charging only a third of what France Telecom (Orange's parent) paid for its 3G licence, even though it got three times the 3G spectrum for that money.

The new licence includes only 10MHz (a pair of 5MHz channels) at 2.1GHz, but also includes 10MHz at 900MHz, the latter being stripped off the existing operators including Orange.

Unlike the UK, France has no 3G-only operators, which makes life a little easier - though the incumbents are already arguing that quality of service will suffer once their 900MHz bands are reduced.

Last time France tried to sell off the spectrum no one was interested, but this time around there seems to be more interest despite the economic situation.

Industry journal PolicyTracker reckons that ISP Illiad is in with a shot, but also quotes MVNO Virgin Mobile CEO saying that the company is "almost obliged to take part as the fourth mobile operator in terms of subscriber numbers". ®

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