France Won’t Get LTE On The iPhone Before The End Of 2013 As The ARCEP Fails To Make A Decision

It keeps getting worse for French iPhone owners. The agency for telecommunications ARCEP has just announced that it would meet with the four French telcos to know if and when it should refarm Bouygues Telecom’s 1,800MHz band to bring LTE to the iPhone 5. The three other companies are begging the ARCEP to wait until at least 2014 to start this process, effectively lobbying for slowing down innovation in this industry.

Last July, Bouygues Telecom sent a request to the ARCEP to reuse its old 2G 1,800 MHz band for LTE communications. It would give a head start to the third largest telecommunications company. According to the French law, the ARCEP has up to eight months to reply.

That’s why the agency finally explained what it plans to do in the coming months. On February 7th, the four telcos will have to present their arguments. Bouygues Telecom wanted to reuse its 1,800 MHz band in early 2013. It definitely looks like the ARCEP will miss the mark. Even though it first agreed with Bouygues Telecom, Free now wants to wait as long as possible as the company is already having a hard time laying out its 3G network and meeting ARCEP’s coverage requirements.

Finally, Orange and SFR are acting like spoiled children, begging the ARCEP to wait until the end of 2013 or even 2014 before even thinking about refarming the 1,800 MHz brand. In 2012, the two companies bought the so-called “gold spectrum” in the 800 MHz band for around $1.6 billion (€1.2 billion). This band is effectively useless for the iPhone, many Samsung devices and many other brands as it only works with a few Android handsets, such as the HTC One XL and the Motorola Razr HD. It was overpriced.

All these companies are playing the job card as well. Delaying or refarming the 1,800 MHz band would create hundreds of jobs depending on which company you take side with. It will be a key argument for the ARCEP, even though the four companies are inflating those numbers.

Allowing LTE plans sooner than later would enable the four telecommunication companies to increase the average data plan subscription price. As plan prices have greatly decreased recently, those companies desperately need a new steady influx of money to invest in optical fiber and other infrastructure improvements.

According to Les Échos, the ARCEP won’t make any decision before the end of 2013. Other countries, such as the U.K., have allowed the 1,800 MHz band refarming for LTE — but bureaucracy, lobbying and general slugginess will once again hurt the end customers who won’t get LTE on their iPhone or Galaxy Note II devices any time soon.