France launches auction for 5G frequencies

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These allocations should pave the way for the first 5G services to be marketed in certain cities at the end of the year.

After the false start, the start of a long-distance race in a climate of mistrust. France launches, Tuesday, September 29, the allocation of the first 5G frequencies, which should bring several billion euros to the State. Initially scheduled for April, but postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, these auctions should allow operators (Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom, Free) to acquire 11 “blocks” of frequencies that are currently unused and pave the way for the first 5G service launches in some cities at the end of the year.

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>> Why the debate on 5G is so heated

The future mobile network will be launched in France by first using the band from 3.4 to 3.8 GHz on the electromagnetic spectrum. The four operators have already each obtained a block of 50 MHz in this frequency band, at a fixed price of 350 million euros. With the additional 110 MHz involved, the state hopes to collect at least 2.17 billion euros.

An operator will not be able to acquire more than 100 MHz “to give everyone their chances”, explains Arcep, the French telecoms regulator which oversees auctions. The main auction, which should last around ten days, will be followed by a “positioning auction” allowing operators to choose whether they prefer to be located in the center of the band or at its ends, more susceptible to interference with other services.

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However, 5G has aroused hostility from part of public opinion, politicians and NGOs, who question the interest of this new technology, citing risks to health and the environment. Nearly 70 left-wing elected officials and environmentalists, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Yannick Jadot or the mayor of Marseille Michèle Rubirola, asked in mid-September in a forum for a moratorium on the allocation of frequencies.

But the government wanted to maintain its schedule without waiting for a report from the National Health Security Agency (ANSES) scheduled for March 2021, stressing that most advanced countries had already allocated these frequencies. The first generation of mobile telephony made it possible to make calls, 2G to add text, 3G to start sending images and 4G to develop mobile internet and video uses. Ultimately, 5G must speed up speeds and connect everything that is not currently (factories, transport, etc.).

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