France rakes in 2.8 bn euros from 5G frequency sale

France’s mobile operators paid the state nearly 2.8 billion euros for the first block of 5G radio frequencies auctioned off this week, with former state monopoly Orange winning the biggest share, the Arcep telecoms regulator said Thursday.

The agency put 11 unused frequency “blocks” on sale, with the aim of making the ultrafast technology available in some French cities by the end of this year.

Arcep said the country’s four operators — Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free — paid a total of 2.786 billion euros ($3.3 billion) for the radio frequencies that will now be reserved for 5G services.

The fifth-generation successor to 4G technology promises radically quicker transfers of data, heralding major changes to an array of products and services from self-driving cars to remote surgery.

Operators had already paid 350 million euros each for 50 megahertz of spectrum on the available frequency bands, and could bid for bigger slices that would improve network performance and coverage.

Orange won an additional 90 MHz and SFR obtained 80 MHz, while Bouygues and Free got 70 MHz each.

Another auction will be held this month for “positioning,” since slots closer to the centre of the frequency band are less susceptible to interference from other devices.

“This was a successful auction, and we have to commend the very strong commitment by the operators to invest significantly in France,” the Arcep president Sebastien Soriano said at a press conference.

The conference was held at the French headquarters of Ericsson, the Swedish mobile network equipment maker.

Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia stand to benefit from heavy spending on the 5G network rollouts, after France placed heavy restrictions on the use of gear from the Chinese giant Huawei.

Several governments, in particular the US, suspect the company could help China eavesdrop on western networks.