Orange faces staff dissent about 5G on eve of France's auction
Orange SA, France's largest telecoms company, is riven by internal controversy over whether to roll out 5G networks.
The news comes as the country prepares to auction off 5G frequencies on September 29, 2020, as the first stage of the rollout.
A group of Orange employees, calling themselves "Je Suis Si Vert" (I'm So Green), circulated memos in May 2020 and October 2019 arguing the technology will be bad for the environment and unprofitable.
5G can use up to three times as much energy as 4G, but can handle multiples of data at much higher speeds.
The second memo argued Orange would bear heavy investments involved with the rollout, but profits would go instead to smartphone makers, app platforms and the government.
France's Green Party, Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV), has argued the energy costs of 5G could increase greenhouse gas emissions.
The party made gains in June's local elections. It took control of local governments in Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux and Strasbourg.
Yannick Jadot, a Member of the European Parliament and the EELV's possible 2022 presidential candidate, has kept his options open, saying there should be a national debate about 5G.
Coronavirus, meanwhile, has made a dent in the share prices of France's largest telco.
Orange's share price hit €9.22 on September 4, 2020. On November 29, 2019, it was €15.00.
All four companies say they will be bidding in the spectrum auction for the 3.4GHz to 3.8GHz band.
It was previously scheduled for April, but France's regulator Arcep postponed it because of the coronavirus pandemic. An original date in January was shelved owing to disagreements between Arcep and France's Finance Ministry.
France has said the overall 5G spectrum auction will need to raise at least €2.17 billion.
The Italian and German 5G auctions, in 2018 and 2019 respectively, both raised roughly €6.5 billion (US$7.7 billion).
Those numbers were good news for finance ministry officials, but caused consternation among France's telcos.
Each telco is guaranteed a 50MHz block, with a reserve price of €350 million ($415 million), and the remaining 110MHz is being sold in 11 blocks with a reserve price of €70 million ($83 million) each.
Initially, each telco would have needed to launch commercial 5G services in two cities by the end of 2020. Arcep's president, Sébastien Soriano, dropped this requirement due to the coronavirus.
In recent weeks, Orange has acquired 5G rollout experience in Bucharest, Madrid and Barcelona.
The French government owns a 23% stake, with the remainder publicly traded.
"We are not going to force the French, and the mayors in particular, to accept something they do not want," Richard said in July.
He added, though, for climate change he believed 5G was "much more a solution than a problem."
France's green movement may not yet be convinced.
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