5G: operators approach 20,000 operational sites

As the start of the school year arrives, operators now have thousands of 5G sites operational in the territory.

Consolidation of the 5G network continues in France. At the beginning of September, the National Frequency Agency (ANFR) shared a new progress report reporting on the state of the deployment of ultra-broadband mobile in the metropolis. It appears that the operators have, according to their statements, more than 17,550 operational sites, that is to say ready to transmit and receive 5G.

In the ANFR nomenclature, a site declared operational does not necessarily mean that it is open to the public. This means that it emits radio waves, but customers do not yet have access to it. The monitoring of this category, that is to say that of commercially open sites, is entrusted to the telecoms regulator (Arcep), which reports on the situation, at its own pace.

In detail, the ANFR indicates that nearly 29,000 sites (28,821 to be precise) have been authorized to broadcast on the territory and that, of this number, 17,559 are declared ready for use by Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free Mobile. 5G sites use three different frequencies, across the 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz and 3.5 GHz bands, the latter being the core band of 5G.

5G city
The country’s coverage remains modest in 5G, the deployment having started less than a year ago. // Source: Melvyn Dadure for Numerama

The ANFR’s monitoring involves an apparent contradiction: in the report, 19,951 sites declared operational are mentioned, a number which can be found in the summary table (number of sites taking into account mutualizations). But the sum of the sites for each of the frequencies gives a higher value, 23,423. The ANFR has an explanation for this: there is also a mutualisation between the bands.

This explains the reason why the addition of 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz and 3.5 GHz sites does not correspond to the result put forward by the ANFR. This state is also observed for the declared sites. Generally speaking, the operators indicate that more than 60% of the declared sites are actually operational. As for the number of sites open, it will be necessary to refer to the next stage point of Arcep.

According to the latest figures from the regulator, which date from June 30, 2021, and which therefore experience a serious delay with the monitoring of the ANFR, there were 16,807 sites open to the public. Here again, Arcep adds a reading note: the same site can support several tapes and, therefore, the total number of sites may be lower than the sum of all the sites, band by band.

Operators shoulder to shoulder in the 5G core band

This race features a leader, Free Mobile, which from the start has claimed to have the largest number of 5G sites. This advance is explained by the fact that the operator has chosen to bet fully on the 700 MHz band, which it has used until now for 4G. As this network is already in place, all you have to do is “recycle” the frequencies and take advantage of a ready-to-use infrastructure.

This use of what already exists is in fact found more widely among all operators and for all frequencies. As the ANFR underlines, almost all these 5G installations have been authorized on existing sites, already used by 2G, 3G or 4G technologies. Only three sites only host 5G. A way for operators to benefit from past efforts, without alienating mayors.

5G waves
5G uses three frequency bands in France. Others will follow. // Source: Melvyn Dadure for Numerama

But if we focus on the 3.5 GHz band, which is the most important band, the differences are almost non-existent. Orange is in the lead, with more than 1,850 sites open, compared to around 1,570 for Free Mobile. Follows Bouygues Telecom with more than 1,500 sites and SFR with around 1,420 sites. The 3.5 GHz band exhibits the most balanced properties between throughput, range and indoor coverage.

The bar of 20,000 operational sites in 5G is no longer very far and should be passed within two months, if the pace observed between August and September remains. Over one month, the ANFR noted that there were almost 1,800 5G sites that went from declared to technically operational status. However, this figure could increase with the start of the school year, a good time to boost.

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