By Mathieu Rosemain and Gwénaëlle Barzic
PARIS (Reuters) - France is likely to delay its 5G spectrum auction until at least March 2020, three months later than originally scheduled, two sources close to the matter said.
The delay stems from disagreement between the French finance ministry and the telecoms authority, Arcep, over the exact size of spectrum to be auctioned and the auction floor price, said the sources, who have direct knowledge of the discussions.
Arcep and the ministry declined to comment.
"All positions haven't yet converged between Arcep and the government," one of the two sources said. "It shouldn't take much more time now, but it's when one gets into the final details of the procedure that difficulties emerge."
The talks have postponed the legal process for granting the right to use 5G radio waves, which will be used by wireless carriers to develop networks, the sources said.
Germany and Italy have raised about 6.5 billion euros ($7.2 billion) each through 5G spectrum auctions, an amount that shocked the industry and likely raised concerns at Orange, Altice Europe's SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad, the four French telecoms operators whose margins are already suffering from a protracted price war.
France's last spectrum auction in 2015 raised 2.8 billion euros for state coffers. Under the current plan, the 5G frequency blocs up for grabs are within the 3.4-3.8 gigahertz bandwidth.
A first set of blocs will be granted at a fixed price and a second will be auctioned. The floor price will be "close to 1.5 billion euros," one of the sources said.
While primarily aimed at helping business grow, the slower deployment of high-speed 5G technology will also postpone its widespread use by consumers in a country that President Emmanuel Macron pledged to turn into a "start-up nation."
5G services are available in nine European countries, including Spain, Britain, Ireland, Germany and Italy, making France one the last large nations on the continent to adopt the new generation cellular network technology.
The French telecoms industry lobby says 5G will allow 10 times faster data downloads than 4G with a much smaller probability of experiencing breaks in the Internet connection.
(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Christian Lowe, Kirsten Donovan)