4G coverage for French communes with no reception delayed

The roll-out of 4G mobile coverage across France has been hit by delays due to Covid-19, says a consumer watchdog – and there are fears that 5G is being rushed in.

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France’s telecoms operators made pledges on better 4G coverage when they signed up to a “Mobile New Deal” in 2018. 4G is a system to connect mobiles to the internet and is faster and preferable to its predecessor 3G if you watch videos, stream music or download apps. A new list of communes that must be covered by 4G by the end of this year has been published in France’s Journal Officiel. The list, including the operators concerned, can be seen at tinyurl.com/y9hzpucy.

Providing 4G coverage across France

Antoine Autier, head of mobile phones at UFC-Que Choisir, said: “The operators have obligations, including to cover the population with 4G, that are linked to the fact that they don’t have to pay to make use of the mobile frequencies. The first obligation was to make 4G available across the mobile network that already existed in 2018. The second was that in areas with no mast, with no mobile cover, the state would publish lists of communes which must be covered by whatever means, such as by firms getting together to share masts."

“The first objective is more or less on track for the end of this year but on the second aspect, they’re behind. They already were before the confinement and now the confinement has added to that – but they have made promises and there are sanctions that can be applied. However, it’s possible some leeway will be given due to Covid-19. It must be done, as the consumer has effectively accepted that a certain amount of money is not coming in [from frequency fees] so there should be investment in the network.”

Read more: should people in France be worried about 5G?

Switching to 5G

UFC encourages mobile firms to share masts in areas with few homes. Mr Autier said it is feared there may never be 100% coverage. There are some homes towards the edges of zones that are already said to be covered, according to Arcep, the telecoms watchdog, where in reality the signal is so weak that it is almost useless. For a map, click Couverture at this link: monreseaumobile.fr.

The problem is that masts are situated near the most densely-populated areas. The latest development is 5G – even faster mobile internet – with frequencies set to be allocated to telecoms companies in September. UFC-Que Choisir says it has no assumptions that 5G is more dangerous to health than 4G, as some fear, but France should not rush into it before seeing results of tests being run by health and safety agency Anses, due early next year.

Read more: dozens of 5G antennas were vandalised in France during lockdown

Reflecting on the decision to make the change

This could also give more time to reflect on how firms will be allowed to market it. A 5G service could be very fast in some areas but no better than 4G in others. Firms should not be allowed to advertise “astounding” performance if the claims will not match reality, Mr Autier said. Furthermore, there are ecological concerns, as 5G will use more electricity, and, with current technology, most people do not need it. It would be ideal, for example, for self-driving cars or online virtual reality games. 5G will need traditional-sized masts but they will direct signals to­­wards phones that need it, not everywhere at once. Increasingly, in the future, it is also predicted to require a booster network of mini-masts every few hundred metres in urban areas.

Did you know?

Did you know that it is possible to make calls or send texts over home internet (or other) wifi? It is ideal for those who struggle to get reception inside buildings and is offered by Orange, SFR and Bouygues. You need a compatible phone – most iPhones or Samsungs, as well as some Huaweis and Sonys. Activate “wifi calls” in the settings (sometimes called voLTE). With SFR, you have to contact the company. Once working, it automatically puts calls over wifi if the reception is poor.

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