Is WiMAX dead in France?

An article in the French newspaper, Le Monde, asks whether WiMAX is on its deathbed in France. It cites data from ARCEP, the French telecoms regulator, which shows that out of the 3562 locations that should have been covered with WiMAX service by 30 June 2008, only 657 were connected as of 31 December 2008. Moreover, Bolloré Télécom, the largest WiMAX provider, has only completed 13% of its planned installations; its competitor, Altitude, has finished only 15%.

Groupe Bolloré has spent 78 million EUR to acquire 12 WiMAX licenses. Altitude purchased its licenses from Maxtel, which has since gone out of business. ARCEP has threatened to revoke the operators’ licenses due to the delays, but it agreed instead to extend the completion date to June 2010. It is difficult to see how the WiMAX operators will meet that deadline.

One of the problems with WiMAX in France is that the rollout of mobile WiMAX, which is meant to compete with UMTS, is seriously delayed. Operators have blamed equipment vendors for their failure to deliver truly mobile WiMAX solutions. One of my sources says that the only WiMAX services available in France today is “fixed wireless” in rural areas. He mentioned a fixed WiMAX operator called Nomotech, a local WISP in Normandy which has deployed service in western France (where there is no DSL) using Redline products with “fixed 16e”.

The other problem is more a European one and that is the coordination among EU member states for using the 3.5 GHz frequency band for WiMAX. There is no one regime that applies to all the EU member states for WiMAX over 3.5 GHz.

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  1. Alain Baritault says

    By law, WiMax is used in France as fixed wireless. Even if most of the WiMax equipments in place are now “e” (or mobile) version, ARCEP does not allow handover and roaming from one BS to another for interferences concerns..!! It looks like this is not to change in the short term and WiMax may be stocked as Fixed Wireless (which is also said as Nomadic…!)for long time, just to be definitively killed in France… If you want to kill your dog, you call him rabid… It is interesting that Bolloré is now considering using the frequencies he has bought for 120 millions to do something else… according to the quote. Would ARCEP let him do.. and why not allowing roaming? Will he be allowed to move to LTE?

    The journalist mentions Bollore as a major winner of the frequency allocation, I don’t know if paying for something you don’t use makes you an instant winner? But she forgot to mention the one (Jean Paul Riviere, CEO of Altitude) who has made some good money only by trading frequencies. He sold his initial frequencies to Free (€36 millions for an initial cost estimated at €800,000 two years before) got new frequencies under a JV called Maxtell and then reselled Maxtell to Bollore, without developing WiMax as he was supposed to… After all this is a good retirement plan…What Free will do with its national frequency allocation…? Who knows? Remember Free is in the starting blocks to be the 4th cell phone operator in France.

    About the frequency band used by WiMax in Europe (3.5 GHz), it was said that the European Commission was willing to open the 2.5 GHz for public use and allocation. But considered the state of the development of WiMax in Europe, I doubt they will consider WiMax when the frequencies will be freed, it will probably go to LTE, a more business oriented contender.

    Therefore it looks like there is an interest in WiMax.Gary Goldenberg from Alvarion France told last year he was now installing a lot of WiMax using the 5.x frequencies, free of licence. He said it was about half of all Alvarion installation at this time.

  2. Esme,

    Two points;

    – mobile wimax is NOT allowed in France yet, ARCEP is the main stumbling block here not the operators
    – there is a unified view on 3.5GHz WiMAX in Europe, this was all sorted in June ’08 with an EU directive following on from the ITU IMT designation in Nov ’07.

    So to day, while there may well be still some supplier issues it is ARCEP that is holding back progress, even AlcaLu cannot deploy its 3.5GHz Mobile WiMAX technology and they are French!!


  3. please note that mobile wimax auction in 2.5GHz and 800 Mhz frequency band is scheduled by arcep for end 2009 (please click on the following link:

  4. This is not a mobile wimax auction – it is an auction for high data rate mobile services that is specified as technology neutral – so it could be WiMAX or it could be LTE. Note also that the 2.6GHz band does not become available in all of France until 2014.