5G: still very modest coverage according to Arcep

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The commercialization of 5G has reopened the communication war between operators. Free claims pole position but by recycling its 4G network. For its part, Orange is first on the 3.5 GHz frequency band, as shown by the Arcep observatory. The latter shows that 5G is still in its infancy and is focusing on large cities.

The number of 5G sites activated

The oldest remember the communication war on the quality of service and the coverage of mobile networks on 3G. All the operators then claimed first place on this or that criteria. Are we witnessing the same thing on 5G? In any case, the conditions are met with a media offensive by Free Mobile which claims to be first in terms of number of sites and aims for 80% coverage of the population by the end of 2021. Arcep’s latest observatory on deployment of 5G effectively shows that the operator has 8,798 sites open commercially. Far ahead of Bouygues Telecom (2840), Orange (1528) and SFR (1417).

This snapshot should nevertheless be put into perspective when we look in detail at the frequencies used for 5G. Indeed, all operators are not in the same boat, well above all at the same frequency. Explanations: Free Mobile is based on the 700 MHz frequency band used for 4G. The operator has obtained authorization to reuse this frequency for 5G, which is referred to in telecom jargon as refarming. All benefits for Free Mobile which has a lot of compatible antennas. This frequency, derived from TNT, has the particularity of having a great range and good penetration into buildings, but with a lower speed in 5G use.

A blanket still very scattered

However, for other operators, the “real” 5G is located on the 3.5 GHz band and offers better throughput. And on this point, Orange takes the lead in the number of commercially activated high points (1241), followed by Free Mobile (1007). Bouygues Telecom and SFR are for the moment far behind with only 628 sites open for the first and 558 for the second. We remember that the two operators were obliged by the Government under the anti-Huawei law to withdraw several antennas (around 3000 for Bouygues Telecom and several thousand for SFR). An obstacle in the race for deployment, without a doubt.

Based on the 3.5 GHz frequency band, 5G coverage remains very sparse. (Photo credit: Arcep)

Behind this battle of spectrum and communication, the deployment maps unveiled by Arcep show that the implementation of 5G is still in its infancy. Based on the 3.5 GHz sites, it can be seen that the operators are concentrating on the large conurbations (Paris, Marseille, Lyon, etc.). As a reminder, some municipalities had launched moratoriums on the launch of 5G on their territory. The Paris city hall only recently authorized the opening of the network. Lille was still under a moratorium, but that did not prevent operators from deploying their networks in the northern capital. While for the general public, the opening of the 5G network will be gradual, operators are communicating more and more on professional aspects with several initiatives such as the port of Le Havre with Orange or Bouygues Construction on sites with Bouygues Telecom.

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