Bouygues Telecom gets the 5G ball rolling

Bouygues Telecom has launched 5G services today in 20 major French towns and cities. The aim is to offer nationwide 5G coverage by the end of next year.

The operator said it was looking at a "gradual and pragmatic rollout" of the next-gen tech. "We are listening to local authorities in pursuit of constructive dialogue," maintained CEO Richard Viel.

Using a combination of 2.1GHz frequencies and a 70MHz block of 3.5GHz airwaves, recently picked up at auction for €602 million ($720 million), Bouygues Telecom said the immediate 5G role – the "first phase" – was to ensure customers "continue enjoying seamless, high-performance smartphone use."

Given the current growth rates of mobile data consumption, at 40% a year, Bouygues Telecom reckoned its 4G network could be saturated in some places by 2021.

Only with the arrival of a core 5G network, expected in 2023, does the operator think it'll be possible to go into the "second phase." At that time, courtesy of standalone 5G, Bouygues Telecom is aiming to bring "new services" to cities, vehicles, industries and healthcare.

In parallel with the 5G announcement, Viel said Bouygues Telecom will "continue to roll out and ramp up its 4G network, especially outside urban areas."

Huawei staggers out

Bouygues Telecom's 4G and 5G plans cannot include Huawei, however. Once Huawei's equipment licenses run their course, ANSSI, France's cybersecurity agency, will not renew them.

This poses a logistical and financial challenge to Bouygues Telecom, which, according to Strand Consult, has Huawei kit accounting for roughly half of its mobile network footprint.

Bouygues Telecom CFO Pascal Grange, on an earnings conference call in August, nonetheless sought to play the problem down, even though Huawei's equipment licenses expire in four cities next year, another four in 2023 and about nine in 2025. All of Huawei's licenses will have expired in France by 2028.

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"That means that roughly, for this period of eight years, we'll have to adapt our network with a replacement of about 3,000 sites," explained Grange. "It feels reasonable."

He added, a little vaguely, that Huawei's equipment could "probably be reused in some aspect."

Bouygues Telecom's other network supplier is Ericsson. It is not yet clear how far the operator will count on the Swedish vendor to plug gaps left by Huawei or look elsewhere to maintain a dual-vendor RAN strategy.

Orange up next

Orange said it will launch 5G in 15 French municipalities this Thursday. Altice Europe's SFR claimed to be the first French operator out of the 5G traps, however, launching the service in parts of Nice last month.

As far as Light Reading can determine, fourth operator Iliad has still to fix a date for 5G launch, although it was recently angling for a 5G network-sharing arrangement with Orange to reduce costs.

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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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