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 France turns on 5G, with opposition from mayors and airports

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The operator SFR has been the first to commercially launch the 5G network in France. It was last Friday, in Nice, with the announcement that half of the municipal territory is covered. Orange will start this Thursday or Friday, without officially saying where, and Bouygues Télécom will start on December 1, while the fourth licensed French operator, Free, waits to see what the others do to act. All operators have committed to deploying 5G in an accelerated manner throughout France, but there are several mayors of large cities who are against the new mobile network. Now it has also been known that there may not be 5G coverage in the airports and surroundings either, for fear that the signal will interfere with the communication of the planes. Paris, meanwhile, is debating whether or not to let 5G be there in the coming months.

France was the last of the large European countries to have commercial 5G networks, because Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain have already had them for more than a year. Not all southern European countries, however, have commercial 5G networks, because Portugal and Belgium are missing. In Portugal there is a strong controversy with the conditions of the auction and in Belgium it is expected that the auction of the licenses will take place very late next year, as announced last week, so there will be no commercial 5G service in the country before 2022. The Polish government, for its part, does not plan to award 5G licenses until the end of next August. Thus, the plans provided by the European Commission that 5G would have been launched at the end of this year in at least two cities in all EU countries have been blown up, and not only due to the pandemic.

The main problem that exists now in France with 5G networks is that many mayors of the main cities are strongly opposed to the installation of antennas with the new mobile technology in their municipalities. Or, at least, they want a moratorium to be passed until 5G technology is mature and there is conclusive evidence that it is not harmful to health, that an official report is being prepared for that which should be completed next spring. The vast majority of these mayors are environmentalists and they won the recent municipal elections thanks to the rejection of 5G networks, which is shared by a large part of the population of these municipalities.

Many mayors of major cities oppose the installation of 5G antennas in their municipalities until the technology is mature and there is conclusive evidence that it is not harmful to health.

The law requires operators to inform and receive approval from mayors before launching a 5G antenna, even if an existing facility is leveraged. Operators are thus between a rock and a hard place, because many of these territories hostile to the installation of 5G antennas are commercially very desirable. The auction of the licenses to distribute the 310 megahertz available in the 3.5 to 3.8 GHz band was held at the beginning of September, with a total outlay of 2,790 million euros by the operators.

The definitive award of the specific positioning of the frequencies granted to each operator took place on October 20, although it was not communicated until last November 5. Thanks to this repositioning of the frequencies with respect to the 10 MHz blocks auctioned, each of the four operators have all the part of their contiguous licensed 5G spectrum, and not in pieces as happens in Spain, which is still awaiting that the appropriate changes be made (only Vodafone Spain now has its contiguous 5G spectrum).

In the end, SFR has the 80 MHz obtained in the auction in the lower part of the spectrum, from 3.49 to 3.57 MHz; Bouygues Télécom in the lower middle part its 70 MHz, from 3.57 to 3.64 MHz; the 70 MHz of Free Mobile in the upper middle part, from 3.64 to 3.71 MHz and Orange in the upper part its acquired 90 MHz, from 3.71 to 3.80 MHz. The four operators wanted to be in the upper part lower average of the allocated spectrum, because it is where there is less interference with satellite signals, DTT or the local link with the mobile signal. In the end, the solution adopted seems to satisfy everyone, because SFR and Bouygues plan to share antennas and they are together and the same happens with the other two, which also have plans to share antennas. Free has had to pay an additional three million euros to get this intermediate position that he won among the 24 mathematically possible combinations.

Apart from the fact that the operators have already had to go through the box to receive the licenses, they have also committed to respecting a coverage schedule, and with a very strict proportion of rural sites for the antennas. Thus, the goal is for there to be 10,500 active 5G sites in 2025, generally in existing facilities, and each operator must have installed 3,000 active sites in 2022. In addition, a quarter of the antennas must be located in rural or industrial areas by 2024 or maximum 2025, because you do not want urban areas to be excessively privileged, in principle the most profitable.

Mandatory municipal permit

The four operators now have the necessary licenses and spectrum to operate, as well as the obligations required by the State. It is clear that all of them will start offering the 5G service immediately, as SFR has already done in Nice, but the pace and places to install the 5G antennas are unknown, among other reasons the choice because it does not depend only on the potential customers they may have. in each area and the strategy of the competitors, but they must deliver a report with their plans in each municipality that interests them and receive the appropriate authorization from the corresponding mayor’s office, even if the 5G antenna to be installed takes advantage of the existing infrastructure.

Many mayors of important cities, such as Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble or Bordeaux, are very reluctant to grant permits to install 5G networks in their municipalities, because in the recent municipal elections they showed their total rejection of 5G antennas and they won, because A very large part of the electorate agrees that there be a moratorium of several months before moving forward with 5G, at least until the technology is considered totally safe for health and the technology is mature. Shortly before the summer, one of the operators, Bouygues, formally asked the Government for a one-year moratorium, because it considered that 5G technology was not mature or even profitable.

As if that were not enough, it has now been known that the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, the competent body, has expressed its reservations that 5G antennas can be installed near French airports. The agency fears that the dozen of the antennas that have been installed on an experimental basis could disrupt the guidance and communication systems inside the aircraft. Civil Aviation is based on an official report from the United States and published last October in the United States in which it warns that the band from 3.7 to 3.9 GHz usable by 5G creates a “greater risk” for aircraft altimeters , which use these same frequencies and which is the only system that airplanes have to measure the distance they are from the ground or other obstacles.

The main problem is to make the technology profitable and justify the investment to be made in the coming years, until the industrial 5G applications are not ready and the consumer is trusted for the time being

This veto to install 5G antennas near airports was known a few days before signing the award of licenses, which has caused operators to be “furious” over the measure, as the newspaper Les Echos headlined yesterday. The operators wanted to take advantage of the full 5G coverage of the airports as a claim before French and foreign users, since France is the first world tourist destination and passengers spend (or spent before the pandemic) many hours in airports waiting take off of your plane.

According to the deputy director of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation to Les Echos, “complementary technical analyzes are being carried out to ensure the compatibility of 5G stations with the needs of civil aviation”. Having reservations is legitimate, but 7% of the world already has 5G coverage and there have been no problems with the planes, an anonymous representative of the operators tells the French financial newspaper. With this, he rivets, the theories of the 5G plot are at ease with new arguments.

Apart from the favorable municipal report, the operators are obliged to receive approval from the National Frequency Agency (ANFR) of the type of antenna and installation to be carried out. This can mean a major setback and a veto if any of the operators wants to install Huawei antennas somewhere. Both the ANFR and Cédric O, minister in charge of digital issues and electronic communications, have wanted to remove the iron from the matter, ensuring that the vast majority of the first 300 installations have received approval and are in contact with the operators. Only 4% of the applications, those near the airports, have been denied for the moment, and Gilles Brégant, general director of the ANFR, assures that there will be a delay of a few weeks or months in granting authorization in the areas near the airports, “but there will be no lasting exclusion zones.” “The airports will also have 5G coverage,” he says.

Monetize 5G

The main problem, however, is to make the investment in 5G profitable. Apart from paying the licenses, the operators will have to make an annual investment of several billion euros per year in the coming years to set up the necessary infrastructure. Although the trend is to share antennas to reduce costs, the industrial applications for 5G networks, which are the most interesting from all points of view, will not be available for at least a couple of years on a large scale and the applications of consumption is not expected to hook individuals excessively. In a year or two, 5G supporters argue, 4G networks will be at the limit in many large cities and 5G will have to be resorted to, but the problem, critics argue, is to cover the initial phase of deployment, before 2024 .

At the moment, all the operators have published their contracting plans for 5G networks. They vary according to the data limit, the permanence commitments and the operator, from for example 39.99 euros per month with 70 GB in one of the Orange plans to 30.99 euros per month with 50 GB in another Bouygues plan. In general, operators charge an additional five euros a month to the user who contracts 5G in France. In addition, you must reside in an area with 5G coverage and have a compatible terminal, because otherwise it does not make any sense.

ARCEP, the French telecommunications regulatory body, will create a “5G observatory” with the publication of all areas with current coverage and future coverage plans region by region, which the operators are committed to providing to ARCEP. With this, we want to give more transparency to the whole process of implementation of 5G in France and be clearer on the issue of the impact of radio waves on health and on their degree of pollution or energy consumption.

It also wants to detail in what frequency the operators emit 5G in each of the antennas. Technically, a 5G network can be broadcast with the frequency now granted of 3.5 GHz, but also with the frequencies of 700, 1,800 or 2,100 MHz, which the operators have the appropriate license. Transmission speed and coverage are very different depending on the frequency used, even though they are all 5G, leading to the discussion of “true” and “false” 5G. It is a debate that will surely also arise in Spain, because not all 5G networks at different frequencies are the same or have the same benefits.

Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice for the Republican LR party, is openly in favor of the implementation of 5G in his municipality and gave his immediate approval for SFR to launch last Friday the first commercial 5G network in half of the city’s territory, which It has 340,000 inhabitants and is the fifth most populous in France. Nice is very close to the Principality of Monaco, which is already fully covered with 5G for months, and lives largely from tourism. Estrosi wants 5G to be a pole of attraction for companies and universities and research centers in its territory and a “smart city”, but it has also prohibited a 5G antenna from being less than 50 meters from a school.

The mayor of Nice’s enthusiasm for 5G is not shared by other mayors of large cities, so the first months of 2021 will be key to elucidating the actual implementation rate that 5G will have in France, as more antennas are switched on and know the number of users. An important indicator will be the citizen debate on 5G that will take place in Paris in the next two weeks and, above all, the official decision that is taken in this regard.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, is a socialist but declares herself an ecologist and maintains a coalition on the Council of the City Council with ecologists. In recent days, however, tension within the coalition has increased as a result of the proposal to name a street or square for Samuel Paty, the history and geography professor assassinated by an Islamist on 16 May. October, with an electronic vote that was misinterpreted for technical reasons, when environmentalists appeared as abstentionists. If Paris finally chooses to delay the installation of 5G networks, as environmentalists want, even for a few months, the roll-out of 5G could suffer a severe blow.