Online maps charting the progress of 4G coverage in the last five years have been released by France’s independent telecoms watchdog.
Arcep told The Connexion that 96% of the country – but not overseas territories – has access to 4G via at least one operator.
In addition, 76% of the territory has access to 4G via all four of France’s main operators.
Arcep’s new online maps allow people to check 4G in different departments
In the department of Ain (see image), 95% of the department and 99% of the population are covered by at least one operator.
The map also shows that three of the major telecom operators, Bouygues, Orange and SFR, cover 99% of the territory, while Free covers 94%.
To see coverage in your area, go to La couverture 4G en France par département.
The maps also allow users to compare the 4G coverage from five years ago. In 2015, only 50% of Ain’s territory and 45% of its population had access to 4G via at least one operator.
The government launched a plan – the Mobile New Deal – in January 2018 to incentivise France’s four major operators to expand their 4G coverage, especially in rural areas.
The first obligation of that deal was to make 4G available across the mobile network that already existed in 2018.
The Arcep spokesperson said the plan had “already delivered concrete achievements”.
“Above all, operators were obliged to equip 100% of their existing sites with 4G by the end of this year and are on track, since for each operator at least 90% of sites in their network were in 4G at the end of June.”
A second objective is for authorities to publish lists of communes with no mast and no mobile coverage, which must then be given mobile internet by whatever means, such as by firms combining to share masts.
Antoine Autier, head of mobile phones at the consumer association UFC-Que Choisir, said in August that operators were behind schedule on this due to Covid-19.
In response, the Arcep spokesperson said that as part of this targeted scheme, 2,066 areas have been identified by local authorities since 2018 as places that need improved coverage.
Operators had an initial deadline of October 9 to bring signal to 445 of these sites. Currently, this has been achieved at 403 sites. The spokesperson said that Arcep is still analysing the delay at the remaining sites. The spokesperson also said the operators were on track with reaching their targets on “zones blanches”, sparsely populated areas with little or no internet connection. There are around 2,600 of these.
Under the Mobile New Deal, 75% of them should have access to 4G by the end of this year, with the remaining 25% getting access by the end of 2022.
At the end of September, 4G was available in 60% of the sites – compared to 40% at the end of June – and the “operators have announced that they are doing their utmost to meet or even exceed their obligation by the end of December”, the Arcep spokesperson said.
Why was France was so behind in 4G deployment?
Sébastien Soriano, president of Arcep, explained recently: “We underestimated the importance that mobile internet would play. We had anticipated the interest of fibre optics, but the awareness of the mobile took time as the smartphone was seen as just another device. It became the default access to digital,” he said.
“At the start of my term at Arcep in 2015, France was 26th out of 28 in the European 4G coverage ranking. We are now between 13th and 10th, depending on the criteria."
“This will improve further thanks to the Mobile New Deal. It should make it possible to get back in line with French demand.”
As for the rollout of 5G, which faced delays earlier in the year due to Covid-19, this is now under way.
Eventually, all sites in France will be required to provide a 5G service, but the initial phases are: 5G in 3,000 sites by 2022, 8,000 sites by 2024, and 10,500 sites by 2025.
At least 25% of 5G service must be in 'sparsely populated areas and industrial areas, outside the main metropolitan zones'
Arcep will be publishing maps at the beginning of next year to chart the rollout of 5G.
This will include the locations of the sites that the operators plan to bring into service within three months, and the locations of the sites for which an application for planning permission has been filed.
5G has sparked controversy in France over safety concerns.
The city of Lille in Hauts-de- France has suspended permission for any further deployment of 5G pending the 2021 publication of a report on the technology’s safety.