Mobile telephony: France deploys 5G

the essential
By the end of the week, the 5G mobile telephone network will be activated in France. A launch that is not without pain, with the opposition of mayors and citizens, some of whom have taken legal action.

This is a major milestone in the development of telecommunications networks and mobile telephony and yet it will be passed through France in relative silence. The launch of 5G by the end of this week is, in fact, done in a certain discretion that the constraints imposed by the confinement cannot alone explain.

Technological feat for some with unprecedented speeds, subject of controversy for others who point to the potential health and environmental consequences of this new standard, 5G, announced as the catalyst for the next “industrial revolution”, does not start on the hats of wheels but surrounded by a real distrust.

Very gradual launch

The four operators Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free, have spent 2.789 billion euros in auctions to acquire 3.4 – 3.8 GHz frequency blocks (specific to 5G). In the name of “digital spatial planning”, they will have to respect a set of “obligations” set by the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications, Posts and Press Distribution (Arcep), the telecoms gendarme , in the deployment of their 5G antennas.

Each operator will have to install 3,000 new pylons by 2022, then reach 8,000 in 2024 and finally 10,500 in 2025. Arcep has “authorized” them to “use these frequencies” acquired in October; an effective authorization since yesterday but which, in fact, will come into force in a few days. “Between 20 and 30 November” because of administrative procedures related to technical authorizations that operators must file with the National Frequency Agency (ANFR) and requests for information from town halls, said Arcep.

All operators have designed – or will unveil for Free – dedicated 5G commercial offers. But between the very limited 5G coverage, the need for a compatible smartphone and package, 5G cruising speed is not expected for several months.

This very gradual deployment of 5G in France is in any case giving rise to fears, opposition and sometimes violence, several branches having been set on fire in recent months. For many green and left-wing mayors, the launch of 5G is rushed and would require a moratorium while waiting for the National Health Security Agency (ANSES) to deliver its final report in March 2021 on the harmfulness or harmlessness of electromagnetic waves on human health. A moratorium also requested by the Citizens’ Convention … but rejected by Emmanuel Macron.

Collective action before the Council of State

The head of state did not accept this proposal and had even been critical or even insulting towards all those who question 5G. “I do not believe that the Amish model makes it possible to solve the challenges of contemporary ecology”, launched Emmanuel Macron, eager to see France quickly take the turn of 5G so as not to miss a major development issue for the industry, services, health, transport, etc.

In any case, the launch of 5G this week does not undermine the determination of opponents. Yesterday, mandated by some 6,500 people, Mes Durand and Lèguevaques went to court to cancel the auction for the allocation of 5G frequencies in France. “This first action is based on a threefold motive: the clearance sale of the State’s assets during the auctions (a deadweight loss of 3 billion euros for the French taxpayer), the violation of a resolution of the Citizens’ Convention for the climate and the breach of the precautionary principle due to recognized health uncertainties. “

“5G should not be scary” for the CEO of Free

Xavier Niel, the founding CEO of Iliad, the parent company of Free de FreeMobile, the 4th largest French telecoms operator after Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom, spoke yesterday. The troublemaker of the sector who has shaken up the price of mobile plans believes that “5G should not be scary. “

“This is a great opportunity to build a more sober, more efficient society, with improved city management,” said Xavier Niel before the Economic Affairs Committee of the National Assembly.

Not to be “the last European to refuse the 5G market”

Faced with the concern of a part of public opinion, wary of the health and environmental effects of electromagnetic waves, and vis-à-vis environmentalist or left-wing mayors of large cities, notably Lille, who declared to be in favor of a moratorium until the publication scheduled for spring 2021 of a report from the National Health Security Agency (ANSES), Xavier Niel wants to delay. “It would be a shame in France to have the best fixed networks, with the fastest fiber offers in Europe, and to be the last European on the mobile phone by refusing the 5G market”, pleaded Xavier Niel who comes to record solid financial results with Iliad in the third quarter and which spent 602 million euros to seize “blocks” of 5G frequencies auctioned by the government in early October.

The risk that France will lose part of its attractiveness

“It is also an image, a perception of France, beyond our borders, which could make us lose […] part of our attractiveness “, while the country” had become a main destination for investors “before the Covid-19 crisis, added the CEO in front of the deputies. “I think it’s extremely important not to lose points because of things like 5G. “

Finally, the boss of Free also confirmed that negotiations would take place between Orange and Free for a 5G network sharing agreement, in particular “in relatively low density areas”. “Pooling is important to face investments, limit the environmental impact of deployment, and to accelerate rural coverage (in territory)”, he explained.

Free’s 5G offers to be unveiled soon

Yesterday morning, Iliad also announced the establishment, with the European Investment Bank (EIB), of a new financing of 300 million euros “to support the group in its mobile deployments in France, in particular to densify its network 4G and deploy its 5G network. “

“We are going to continue our deployments at a sustained pace, particularly to launch our 5G offers soon and to enter the business market” declared Thomas Reynaud, CEO of the Iliad group. Only Orange and Bouygues Telecom have so far communicated their 5G commercial offers intended for the general public.

Ph. R.