France 5G generated €2B in 2020 – report

France may have been something of a late arrival to the 5G party, but its four mobile network operators are now fully engaged in deploying 5G basestations while attempting to sell more expensive 5G plans and smartphones to customers.

A report published in December 2021, and carried out on behalf of various French telecoms organizations by Arthur D. Little, has now provided some estimates of what the 5G market in France is worth to date.

According to the study, the French 5G ecosystem is pretty well established and generated nearly €2 billion (US$2.26 billion) in revenue in 2020. Around half came from the construction of networks by Orange, Bouygues Telecom, SFR and Free, and half from the sale of 5G end-user devices. Just €13 million ($14.7 million) was contributed by subscribers to 5G postpaid plans, however.

Looking ahead, annual 5G investments are expected to amount to between €1.5 billion ($1.69 billion) and €2.2 billion ($2.48 billion), while revenue is expected to increase to between €23 billion ($26 billion) and €28 billion ($31.6 billion) by 2027, depending on how quickly 5G solutions are adopted.

In 2027, five vertical sectors are expected to account for around 75% of direct expenditure on business applications, broken down as follows:

  • Industry 4.0: €1.3 billion to €1.9 billion ($1.5 billion to $2.2 billion)

  • Transport: €800 million to €1.2 billion ($900 million to $1.4 billion)

  • Energy and water: €250 million to €400 million ($280 million to $450 million)

  • Health: €330 million to €500 million ($375 million to $570 million)

  • Agriculture: €330 million to €500 million ($375 million to $570 million)

    The 5G ecosystem also supported 250 companies in 2020, of which 180 are French, employing between 6,000 and 8,000 people. The number of jobs is expected to increase to 100,000 in the longer term.

    Free leads the pack

    The business of building 5G networks began in earnest in September 2020 following France’s auction of frequencies in the 3.5GHz band. The four operators all activated their 5G networks at the end of 2020 and began marketing the first 5G services.

    The operators all now offer 5G plans with large inclusive data allowances, although both Orange and Bouygues Telecom currently cap their plans at 200 GB. SFR offers an unlimited 5G plan, while you can get unlimited 5G from Free if you also subscribe to one of its Freebox home broadband and TV plans.

    The study says that by 2022 each national operator with a 5G license must have deployed 3,000 5G sites, while the number of sites deployed must be greater than 8,000 (including 4,000 in low density areas) by 2024. 5G slicing should be available from 2023, and networks should be "100% 5G" by 2030.

    According to the most recent figures from French telecoms regulator Arcep, Iliad-owned Free is well ahead of its rivals in terms of the commercial deployment of 5G sites.

    As of September 30, 2021, Free had deployed 12,000 5G sites – most of which are in the 700MHz to 800MHz band. Next was Bouygues Telecom with 5,003 sites, followed by Altice France-owned SFR with 3,160 and Orange with 2,473. Orange has nevertheless equipped the most sites in the 3.5GHz band (some 2,177). Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR are also using 1.8GHz and 2.1GHz frequencies for 5G.

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    — Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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