June 20, 2022
Bouygues Telecom is setting the stage for the next phase of its 5G rollout by announcing that Ericsson will be supplying the kit for its 5G standalone (5G SA) core network.
The France-based operator indicated that it will launch 5G SA services in 2023, including solutions supported by 5G network slicing.
Ericsson already provides radio access network (RAN) equipment to Bouygues Telecom. The operator also previously partnered with Huawei, but was forced to explore alternative options after the nation’s government effectively banned Huawei from participating in 5G networks after 2028.
Figure 1: France-based operator Bouygues plans to roll out standalone 5G services in 2023.
(Source: Bouygues Telecom)
Rival operator Orange has already chosen its 5G standalone suppliers in Europe, plumping for Ericsson's core network in Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Poland, and Nokia's equivalent offering in France and Slovakia.
Iliad's Free has picked Nokia for its 5G networks in France and Italy. (See Ericsson, Nokia at front of queue for Orange 5G contracts.)
Huawei no more?
France has not explicitly banned the use of equipment from China-based vendors such as Huawei in 5G networks.
However, ANSSI, France's cybersecurity agency, set a very high bar for license authorizations in 5G and previously indicated it will not renew Huawei's equipment licenses once they run their course.
This decision has posed a logistical and financial challenge to both Bouygues Telecom and rival SFR (Altice France), which have been heavily reliant on Huawei equipment in the past. Indeed, the operators were using Huawei equipment across about half their mobile footprint, according to data provided in 2020 by Strand Consult, an advisory group.
In 2021, they began stripping out Huawei equipment from their networks, after unsuccessful legal efforts to challenge France's stricter security policy for future 5G networks.
Bouygues Telecom has said it would have to remove 3,000 Huawei antennas by 2028 in areas with very high population density and that it was prohibited from using Huawei antennas for 5G in Strasbourg, Brest, Toulouse and Rennes.
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In a rather curious twist, French newspaper L’Express reported last year that Free filed a case at the Paris Administrative Court against permits given to Bouygues Telecom and SFR to use Huawei 5G antennas.
Free claimed that its own request to ANSSI for clearance to use Huawei products was rejected, but Bouygues Telecom and SFR were given the greenlight, which it argued gave its two rivals an unfair advantage.
It seems that it’s not entirely clear the extent to which France’s operators might continue to use Huawei equipment in less sensitive parts of the networks in the coming years.
Meanwhile, Free is leading the charge when it comes to the deployment of 5G-enabled basestations in France. According to the latest update from Arcep, Free has over 14,400 sites compared to Bouygues Telecom’s 7,132; SFR’s 5,721; and Orange’s 3,491. Free’s sites are all in the 700Mhz/800MHz bands.
— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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