Two of France's operators are said to have begun the painful process of stripping out Huawei equipment from their networks, after unsuccessful legal efforts to challenge France's stricter security policy for future 5G networks.
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, has set a very high bar for license authorizations in 5G. The aim appears to be to keep Huawei as a supplier while keeping it out of more sensitive parts of the network.
In February, France's Constitutional Council backed the so-called "anti-Huawei law" that forces operators to rip out Huawei 4G equipment in densely populated areas where networks are being upgraded to 5G.
The court backed the law's aim of "safeguarding the interests of national defence and security and protecting mobile radio networks from the risks of espionage, piracy and sabotage."
According to a report by Bloomberg, Bouygues Telecom and Altice Europe's SFR began ripping out Huawei kit at the start of 2021. SFR and Bouygues Telecom use Huawei equipment across about half their mobile footprint, according to data provided last year by Strand Consult, an advisory group.
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.
However, it appears that the French government will not be compensating operators for the cost of this work.
Orange, the French incumbent, relies on Ericsson and Nokia for its mobile network. Iliad, the enfant terrible of the market, seems to heavily favor Nokia.
Meanwhile, 5G rollout is finally underway in France, which has proved to be something of a 5G laggard on the global stage. SFR kicked things off in Nice in November 2020, followed by Bouygues Telecom, Iliad's Free and Orange in December.
In February, Bouygues said its 5G network was now present in 25 major towns and cities. France completed its 5G auction in November 2020, when the four operators were awarded licenses to use 3.4GHz–3.8GHz band frequencies.
As of January 31, French telecoms regulator Arcep indicated that Iliad had in fact commercially deployed the highest number of 5G sites at 6,273, followed by Bouygues with 1,885, Orange with 953 and SFR with 869.
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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading