It will start in cities but all operators must then allocate 20-25% of coverage to more sparsely-populated areas. New phones will be needed and contracts are likely to rise by €10-€20 a month.
Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free have until September to apply for licences.
Any operator must offer 5G in two cities by the end of next year. By 2022, the aim is 75% coverage of France, with 100% coverage by 2030.
Test sites are already operating in Belfort, Bordeaux, Douai, Grenoble, Lannion, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Sophia Antipolis and Toulouse.
The current 3G/4G frequencies were sold by auction – at very high prices – and gains were not all reinvested, leaving overspent operators offering variable services, with rural areas hardest hit.
This time, frequencies will be sold in blocks and some at set prices. There will also be minimum and maximum limits for the amount of frequency that any one operator can buy.
Pierre-Marie Georges, spokesman for the association of rural mayors in France, says it is a step forward that rural areas are included in the 5G plan but they fear promises will not be kept:
“The operators have still not fulfilled their obligation to provide 4G in all rural areas, despite pressure from the government. We’ve been talking about no-signal ‘zone blanches’ for 20 years and that issue is still not resolved
“The promise of 25% rural coverage is not enough as a third of the country is rural with a population of 20 million.
“We are satisfied there has been an awareness of the problem this time, but we remain vigilant. New technologies should be for everyone.”
5G is said to be like fibre optics on your phone and has been compared to the jump from an old phone to a smartphone. A film which takes 1h40 to download with 4G will take 20 minutes.
Reaction time to activate remote objects will be almost instantaneous. It will facilitate driverless cars as they could respond to a signal in a millisecond. Telecom regulator Arcep has ruled that 16,642km of motorways must be covered by 2025 and the 54,913km of main roads by 2027.
In particular, 5G will revolutionise working practices. A surgeon could carry out a remote operation from another continent, farmers could drive tractors remotely and there will be huge opportunities for the development of robotics, a key industry to France.
5G operates via high frequencies and will allow more devices to access the internet simultaneously, and at faster speeds. However, the higher waves travel shorter distances and do not penetrate buildings easily so more, smaller, masts are needed in cities and towns.
Main masts will only send out signals when they are called for, as opposed to constantly broadcasting waves, as masts do now.
Galaxy has launched a 5G phone costing around €1,000. Other firms are working on prototypes.
The telephone consumers watchdog Afutt says it is essential that environmental factors are taken into account so new equipment does not use more electricity than necessary and components are recyclable or long lasting.
They also point out that as most of our time is spent indoors 5G must be able to penetrate buildings.
The government has promised that Anses, the state agency responsible for research into health issues, will continue to study the effects from the undoubtedly increased exposure to radio waves from use of 5G.
A report from Anses in 2013 concluded there are no proven health risks from radio waves.
Nevertheless, it advised at the time that intensive adult users should use hands free systems, children should have moderate use only. It said that studies should be carried out to assess increased exposure risks before development of new infrastructures for mobile telephone networks.