Société Française du Radiotéléphone (SFR) and Orange have been given until the end of the year to deliver its 3G service.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, ART, announced that it will relax the rules of the two networks' operating licenses, extending the deadline for delivering initial commercial service and reducing the requirement to achieve a specified level of network coverage.
Orange and SFR will now have until 31 December to launch a commercial service. On this date, 3G service must be available in the 12 largest French metropolitan areas.
They will have until 31 December 2005 to extend network coverage to 58% of the population, an extension of 28 months. Their licences, awarded in July 2001, originally required both companies to meet their target by 21 August 2003.
The authority explained its decision by saying that external factors, including a difficult economic climate and late availability of the necessary technology, had made it impossible for the operators to respect the deadlines originally required of them. All across Europe, deployments of 3G networks are running 24 to 30 months behind schedule.
Orange and SFR announced only last month their plans to deliver initial commercial service. For SFR, that should happen in June, while Orange has set itself a target of the second half of the year.
Operators in some other European countries, including Austria, Italy and the UK, have already launched commercial service, although the limited availability of compatible mobile phones continues to put a brake on the market.
Peter Sayer writes for IDG News Service