Orange has announced it will launch 5G in 15 French municipalities on December 3, two days after smaller rival Bouygues Telecom is set to debut with the next-gen tech.
Altice Europe's SFR claimed to be the first French operator out of the 5G traps, however, launching the service in parts of Nice on November 20. 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.
As for Orange, it said it picked the first 15 French municipalities for 5G rollout on account of them being the ones most at risk of reaching capacity saturation point.
Customers in Nice, Marseille, Le Mans, Angers and Clermont Ferrand will be among the first to have the 5G option from Orange.
By the end of the year, the operator aims to cover 160 municipalities using 3.5GHz frequencies, which "may be supplemented" with 2.1GHz frequencies going forward. Ericsson and Nokia are Orange's 5G RAN suppliers.
In parallel with the 5G announcement, Orange said it was aiming to switch all of its sites to 4G by the end of this year.
According to the operator, data usage on Orange and "Sosh" plans – Sosh is aimed at the budget market – jumped 40% between September 2019 and September 2020.
Without the addition of the 90MHz block of airwaves in the 3.5GHz frequency band, picked up two months ago at auction for €854 million ($1 billion), Orange said its current networks were at risk of reaching saturation point by 2022.
C'est parti pour la 5G! Le 3 décembre, @orange lancera la #5G dans 15 villes en France. Débits incomparables, efficacité environnementale, dialogue et transparence sont les clés de la 5G responsable d'#Orange #Hello5G @fabiennedulac pic.twitter.com/71yFn8PUWo— Stéphane Richard (@srichard) November 26, 2020
The arrival of 5G seems set to accelerate data usage growth. In the run-up to 5G launch, Orange positioned 5G as a premium offer that will cost more than 4G plans but include much larger inclusive mobile data allowances, relegating 4G to the low-cost league with smaller data pots.
The 5G plans also include an unlimited data offer. This marks the first time that an unlimited mobile data plan has been offered in France, apart from the Free plan that offers unlimited data to customers that subscribe to both mobile and fixed broadband services.
Orange is green?
Orange CEO Stéphane Richard, in prepared remarks, talked about "responsible" rollout of 5G and working closely with local authorities, as well as the greener credentials of 5G compared with previous generations of mobile networks.
"As a responsible operator, Orange is committed to offering the best to its customers to meet their growing connectivity needs, thanks to more efficient technology that is more energy efficient," said Richard
The CEO may well have had in mind an internal problem in the run-up to the auction of 3.5GHz concessions – as well as wider political machinations – when it came to light that a group of Orange employees, calling themselves "Je Suis Si Vert" (I'm So Green), circulated memos in May 2020 and October 2019 arguing 5G will be bad for the environment and unprofitable.
France's Green Party, Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV), has also 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.
- Bouygues Telecom to fire up 5G on December 1
- Fiber, mobile money, pull Orange back to black in Q3, just
- Orange to lure 5G customers with data bonanza
- Orange CEO says something is rotten in the state of telecom
- France emerges as Europe's 5G laggard
— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading