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France’s mobile operators opened 1,135 new 5G cell sites in October

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Steady growth rate – one third of site licences are yet to be used though

French telecoms regulator ANFR has reported that an extra 1,135 sites were added to France’s 5G networks in October. On 1 November, the total number of sites actively sending 5G signals in mainland France came to 19,824.

France’s national deployment of 5G cell sites has maintained steady pace with an almost identical number (1,130), added in September.

France’s overall 5G footprint includes antennas in or ready for commercial service, and the figures show that two thirds (66%) of the sites licensed for 5G services have now been put into use by the network operators.

Mostly upgrades, new sites elusive

Most of the 5G installations authorised by the regulator have been upgrades for existing mobile towers used for 2G, 3G and 4G. There are only three cell sites that are used strictly for hosting 5G antennas.

Free Mobile, the self-styled ‘disruptive’ subsidiary of Iliad, is currently the only French operator to opt to run 5G on the 700 MHz spectrum. Its already uses this spectrum to run its 4G services. Its 5G footprint stands at 12,610 sites already on air, having added 531 in October. However, it has a strong to play as it owns a total of 18,585 5G permits in this band.

In September Free Mobile mounted a legal challenge to its rivals over what it sees as unequal security commitments. It is questioning issuing of permits, granted to rivals Bouygues Telecom and SFR, to use Huawei antennas in their 5G networks.

Orange still ahead, Free accelerating 

There were 813 new sites added in October that will be signalling on the 3.5 GHz band, which is now use on 7,368 sites by the country's four networks. Orange is marginally ahead of its rivals in terms of the number of 3.5 GHz permits held (4,758) and the number of sites that are actively signalling (2,340).

The three networks using the 2.1 GHz band frequencies (Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom) and between them they added an extra 550 active sites in October. That takes the total number of 2.1 GHz signalling stations to 6,172 overall. Bouygues maintained its lead in both the number of 2.1 GHz permits (7,906) and sites emitting a signal (4,681).

Bouygues excelled in 4G race  

Meanwhile, the vast majority of users are still using handsets suited to 4G. They were better served as the pace of 4G installations quickened across the country's four networks, with 283 installations, up on 275 in September. Orange added 105 of these and maintained its lead as the operator with the biggest 4G footprint, with 27,020 sites. It outpaced SFR which added just 95 sites to its total of 22, 583 sites.

Coming up fast is Bouygues which added 203 sites, nearly twice as many as Orange, but it will trails the leaders with 22,374. Free Mobile’s 4G footprint growth accelerated as it added 162 new cell sites, but it still lags behind the other three operators with 20,872 4G signalling sites.