The French government's moves to put France on the mobile broadband fast track were acknowledged this morning when the GSMA, the global mobile telephony association, awarded it its annual Government Leadership award.
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Last year France committed to allocate to mobile services part of the "digital dividend" spectrum being freed up by the replacement of analogue television with digital TV. It also allowed mobile operators to offer broadband services in the 900MHz frequency band, which is currently used for second-generation mobile services.
Both these new assignments are at relatively low frequencies, where radio waves travel long distances and penetrate the walls of buildings and other obstacles easily. This is crucial to giving broadband access to people who live more than 3km from an exchange.
Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA, said, "France is creating the conditions that will enable the mobile industry to invest in the broadband networks that will deliver the productivity improvements and economic growth necessary to help pull the world through these tough times."
France's moves are in stark contrast to the UK, where communications regulator Ofcom is only now consulting on how to free up the same frequencies for mobile operators, and is in dispute with Vodafone and O2 about releasing some of the 900MHz frequencies they hold.
Communications minister Stephen Carter, who two weeks ago produced an interim report onequivalent strategies for the UK called Digital Britain, met representatives for Vodafone and O2 last week to resolve the dispute.
A spokesman for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), confirmed the meeting but declined to say what was proposed. Nor did she say when the parties would meet again."We are not going to give a running commentary on this," she said.
Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France's secretary of state for strategic planning and the development of the digital economy, said, "By harmonising European rules on digital dividend allocation, we will allow the vast majority of citizens to access these new (mobile broadband) services, while reinforcing development opportunities for the digital economy."
The Digital France 2012 plan allocates new spectrum to mobile broadband services in line with the recommendations of the ITU's World Radiocommunication Conference of 2007. The more countries that commit to them the cheaper and faster it should be to implement the technology, because of economies of scale.
France is also moving to license the so-called 3G extension band (2.6GHz), which will significantly increase the capacity available for mobile broadband services in urban areas and other hotspots.
France has also set up measures to stimulate mobile usage by rural communities, low-income groups and the disabled. It also aims to bring in legislation to let people use their mobilephones to pay for goods and services at point of sale in retail outlets, restaurants, train stations and elsewhere.