The current state of 5G in France

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5G network launches follow spectrum allocation in October

France was one of the latest countries in Western Europe to launch 5G. Mobile operators in the country announced their initial 5G deployments in November and December after telecommunications regulator Arcep made available suitable spectrum for 5G in October. Here, we briefly describe the initial availability of 5G announced by French carriers.

Illiad

Iliad subsidiary Free Mobile launched commercial 5G services in the country in December. The telco said that its 5G network already has 5,255 active sites across France, which enables the carrier to cover almost 40% of the country’s overall population.

Free Mobile also said that its 5G network already covers rural areas as well as towns and cities.

For its 5G network, Free Mobile currently uses frequencies in the 700 MHz band as well as frequencies in the 3.5 GHz band which Free acquired in the French spectrum auction in 2020.

The operator said that its current spectrum enables broad coverage and good indoor reception thanks to the so-called low frequencies (700 MHz), as well as ultra-fast speeds, thanks to 70 megahertz in the midband (3.5 GHz).

Free Mobile also highlighted that it is principally using European equipment for developing its 4G and 5G networks.

Bouygues Telecom

Bouygues Telecom recently announced that its 5G coverage has already reached 67 cities with a population of over 50,000 since the commercial launch of its 5G services on December 1.

The telco said that its 5G rollout has reached over 1,000 municipalities across the country.

Bouygues Telecom initially launched 5G in 20 cities across France. Some of the cities covered by the company’s 5G network are Lyon, Nice, Cannes, Montpellier, Avignon, Reims, Le Havre, Toulon, Dijon, Villeurbanne, Le Mans, Aix-en-Provence, Boulogne-Billancourt, Metz, Versailles, Saint Denis, Argenteuil, Rouen, Montreuil et Nancy.

The French operator said it expects to achieve nationwide coverage by the end of 2021. The current roll-out phase will rely on the 3.5 GHz and 2.1 GHz bands.

SFR

SFR announced that its 5G service will be available in 120 towns and cities in France by the end of December. The telco had initially launched its 5G commercial network in Nice in November.

Some of the large cities to be covered by SFR’s 5G network include Bordeaux, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Montpellier, Nantes, Nice and Paris.

Orange

Orange was expecting to launch its commercial 5G services in 15 municipalities in December. Some of the cities where the 5G service will be initially available are Nice, Marseille, Le Mans, Angers and Clermont Ferrand. By the end of 2020, more than 160 municipalities will be covered with 5G, according to Orange’s initial plans.

The operator said it has chosen to initially cover areas that are already heavily used in order to avoid any risk of saturation.

5G spectrum and coverage specifications

The main auction for 3.4-3.8 GHz frequencies for the provision of 5G in France was completed in early October.

In this spectrum auction, local operators Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad committed to pay a total of 2.8 billion euros ($3.4 billion) for a total of 11 blocks of 10 megahertz of spectrum.

Telecom regulator Arcep’s specifications for the 5G auction stipulate that each operator must launch 5G services in at least two cities before the end of 2020. Each carrier should deploy 3,000 sites by 2022, 8,000 sites in 2024 and 10,500 sites by 2025.

Eventually, all of the cell sites must provide a 5G service using frequencies in the 3.4-3.8 GHz band or other bands, according to the regulator.

Arcep also proposed that 25% of 3.4-3.8 GHz band sites in the last two stages must be located in sparsely populated areas, targeting economic activity, notably manufacturing, excluding major metropolitan areas.

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