The French Government this week laid the foundations for the harmonisation of mobile broadband services across Europe, announcing plans to share the so called ‘digital dividend’ between electronic communications and audiovisual services.

France’s move follows the recommendations of the Digital Dividend Parliamentary Commission, which were published in the summer, and form part of the government’s “France numerique 2012” plan, unveiled by Eric Besson, French secretary of state for the development of digital economy.

Under the initiative, France will allocate 72MHz of UHF spectrum in the 790MHz to 862MHz bands for mobile broadband services, in line with the World Radiocommunication Conference’s allocation to the provision of mobile broadband services in Europe, Middle East and Asia. The main focus of the proposals is to reduce the ‘digital divide’, ensuring that 100 per cent of the French population has access to fixed and mobile broadband everywhere in the country.

The remainder of the radio spectrum, which will be released by the switching off of analogue television broadcasting, is to be allocated for use by digital audiovisual services.

The French government’s move has been warmly welcomed. Trade association the GSMA, called on governments across Europe to emulate France’s digital plan, commenting that the country will be well placed to improve its economic competitiveness by closing the digital divide between those with access to broadband and those without.

According to the operator association, the harmonisation of spectrum across countries provides manufacturers with the economies of scale necessary to drive down the price of mobile devices and makes it easier for people to use their handsets when abroad. It should be noted that the Swedish and Finnish governments have already decided to make the 790MHz -862MHz band available for mobile applications, while the UK is working through its own proposals.

Industry consultant Analysys Mason, which helped conduct a study for the French regulator ARCEP to quantify the impact of the French Government’s decision, revealed that the allocation of a proportion of the released spectrum to mobile broadband services could provide an additional benefit to the French economy between 2012 and 2024 of over Eur25bn, than if the digital dividend was allocated exclusively to audiovisual services.

However, the analyst believes that there are several questions of great importance remaining for industry players within France. One of these is the conditions under which licences are to be assigned to operators. notes that an auction process, such as with the recent US 700MHz auction, will likely result in the incumbent providers expanding their own footprint at the cost of increased competition. Although France is also in the process of allocating a fourth 3G licence.

Analysys also highlight issues relating to the development of the market on an international level, such as how these proposals are handled by vendors. Will kit makers place UMTS, HSDPA, and LTE equipment that uses digital dividend spectrum at the centre of their development roadmaps? And will vendors standardise equipment in the 790-862MHz sub-band chosen by the French and some Nordic countries?

72MHz will also enable the deployment of a limited number of high speed mobile broadband networks – analysts suggest one or two would be technically possible – so what role would the sharing of radio access networks or frequencies play for operators in France? And what is the role for satellite services?

On Wednesday European satellite operator Eutelsat Communications announced its commitment to playing a role in “Digital France 2012”. The firm said that satellites constitute a powerful tool with which to take up the challenge of universal broadband coverage by complementing ADSL and fibre networks.

Eutelsat’s provides consumer broadband in France and Switzerland based on its Tooway platform, which uses the ViaSat bidirectional SurfBeam DOCSIS technology already common in North America.