5G mobile phones and services (fifth generation) are slowly being rolled out in France.
This has come despite ongoing protests and a series of opposition campaigns, including groups of eco-warriors setting fire to masts suspected of being used for 5G.
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Their reasoning for doing so appears to be based on unfounded internet speculation that has convinced them that 5G is bad for the planet, people, animals and plants.
Some have even claimed, without any evidence, that the Covid outbreak was due to 5G mobile phones.
Read more : 5G antennas in France do not pose a risk to the health authority, confirms this
However, none of this seems to have stopped the popularity of the services.
A study by one of the leading analyst groups for the technology industry, CCS Insight, estimates that one billion people worldwide will be able to use 5G by the end of the year.
A long way in rural France
However, the study probably didn’t look too closely at rural France, where parts still have 2G cellular coverage and 4G is still new enough to notice when it works.
People living in and near cities will be the first to receive 5G. Maps, which are not always very reliable, show at least 17 cities in France that are covered.
Figures for May, the latest available, show 24,949 5G antennas were operational compared to 60,385 antennas for 4G. 5G coverage is offered by the four historical operators: Bouygues Telecom, Free Mobile, Orange and SFR. Free currently has the widest coverage – see tinyurl.com/5GFrance.
Read more: Update: Where is 5G in France now and how is the rollout progressing?
Read more: Orange gets green light to decommission copper phone lines in France
5G fundamentally different
Much of the excitement about 5G coverage stems from the way it represents a fundamental difference in how cellphone technology works.
With 4G and earlier generations of devices, radio signals are spread from masts over the area covered by the antenna and then intercepted by a mobile phone when the user wants to make a call or use the internet.
With 5G technology, it is the mobile phone or other device that sends a signal to the nearest pole, which then “points” its coverage at the user, rather than the entire area being covered by one signal.
It’s this “aligning” of 5G radio waves that worries eco-warriors, even though microwave doses are much lower than those found in nearby microwave ovens.
The system allows for much greater bandwidth to be used for specific tasks — such as downloading entire movies to a smartphone in minutes with the right expensive data subscription.
It also makes it easier for the mobile device to move from one 5G antenna’s coverage to another without the risk of signal loss, as can happen with 4G and earlier systems. Networks of 5G antennas warn their neighbors to align their signal if they can do better than the first.
Not practical for driverless cars
When there was a lot of excitement about the possibility of driverless cars, it was 5G’s wide bandwidth and reliable signal that led people to believe automakers would embrace the technology.
However, when you look at the practical aspects, 5G doesn’t fit as well with self-driving cars as it was thought to be. In order for it to work in cities with the required safety standards, one would need to have an antenna on every street to avoid the signal being blocked by buildings.
Read more: France is the first EU country to adapt its road traffic regulations for self-driving cars
Read more: Semi-autonomous cars now allowed on some French roads
Similarly, its projected use as a large industrial transformer, allowing machines to communicate with each other to complete tasks without human intervention, has stalled as engineers ponder the complexity and cost of installing dedicated 5G systems .
It could happen in the future, but few projects are currently underway in France, not least because unions oppose it and fear it will lead to job losses.
What has happened so far?
What happened is that if you live in an area with 5G coverage and have a compatible smartphone, you can subscribe to 5G cellular services for more or less the same price as existing 4G services.
Read more: Mobile phone bills in France soar by up to 120% due to hidden ‘gifts’
Most people say they don’t notice a huge difference, but operators insist that everything related to mobile data usage, from email to internet use, is faster and smoother.
There’s also a possibility that, with a little government help, 5G could make its way into rural areas, where big plans to connect every home to fiber optic cable have reached the financial buffers that 30% of France is still a long way from being connected.
Orange and other operators are already offering 4G-based modems (at a high price) that are four times faster than ADSL connections.
If these can be upgraded to 5G with even better broadband speeds, the need for speed over wire won’t be as obvious.
Experimentation with industrial uses continues – Tenders for a special experimental coverage of the financial sector of La Défense, just outside Paris, were completed in September, with the city managers who issued the contract admitting they do not know how it could be used.
The experiment, which will run until the end of 2023, will help enable more measurements of the propagation of 5G waves and allow health professionals to conduct assessments.
Unused bandwidth is resold to wireless service providers. The government-backed 5G rush has helped to alienate a leading French tech company that is also government-backed.
Based in Toulouse, Sigfox was founded in 2009 and has grown into a global leader in the Internet of Things.
Using so-called 0G technology, it sold kits that allowed factories to have their own reliable wireless broadband to run machinery and logistics – exactly what 5G promises.
After investments of at least 275 million euros, managers were called in this year, with the state bank Bpifrance being among the investors who lost their shares.
Sigfox was bought by a Singapore company set up by a former employee who promised to keep part of its operations in France.
Our main image was drawn for The connection by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work, visit www.perrytaylor.fr
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