The launch of the new technology was initially planned for April, but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, the country has opened 11 5G frequencies to operators - Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom, and Free - which will allow the technology to be rolled out in certain towns in France before the end of the year.
The network will first be launched in France using the frequency bands from 3.4 to 3.8 GHz on the electromagnetic spectrum. The four operators have already each been allocated a block of 50 MHz within this frequency band, at a fixed price of €350million.
The extra 110 MHz are now expected to bring in an extra €2.17billion to the state coffers.
Each operator will be limited to 100 MHz, to “allow each to have its own chance”, said telecoms regulator Arcep (l’Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des Postes), which is managing the launch.
The initial “auction” will last around two weeks, and will be followed by a “positioning auction”, that will allow the operators to choose if they wish to be positioned in the centre of the frequency, or at its edges (with the latter more susceptible to interference from other services).
5G is a new frequency that will allow mobile phones to operate much faster than on the current 3G and 4G systems. Supporters say it will not only enable faster connectivity but also permit potentially life-saving development in fields such as remote medicine and operations.
The first mobile technology enabled people to make calls, 2G allowed them to send texts, 3G images, and 4G to increase usability to mobile internet and video. 5G is set to speed this up further, and connect everything that is not yet linked, such as public transport systems and manufacturing industries.
Yet, 5G has also received fierce criticism, with some saying it will have negative effects on the environment and people’s health.
Some discredited conspiracy theories even linked the spread of Covid-19 to the rise in 5G communications towers, and many were vandalised at the height of the pandemic.
More than 70 MPs, from across the political spectrum, have called for a “moratorium” on the technology.
However following a report into the technical and health aspects of 5G, France has concluded that 5G frequencies have no impact on health, if they are used within the legal limits set by French and European regulation.
President Emmanuel Macron has always maintained his support for the system, and has sought to stick to its amended calendar for rolling out the technology, saying that France “will adopt 5G” as “a country of innovation” and will “turn away from any false ideas”.
He controversially said that those who wished to stop the progress of 5G were adhering to an “Amish model” and hoping that France would “return to the days of oil lamps”.
A report on the issue by health agency l'Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire is due in March 2021, and is expected to show that France is already very behind on implementing the technology, when compared to its neighbouring European countries (see the map below).