Dissent at the heart of the telecommunications industry undermines the 5G push in France

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(Bloomberg) – A row erupted within France’s largest telephone company over whether to build a new generation of wireless networks, days before the industry spent billions of euros deploying them in the country.A group of Orange SA employees has repeatedly called on management to abandon the rollout of 5G services in memos distributed to colleagues on the social media platform Plazza. The memos, released in October 2019 and May this year, said the technology would be unprofitable and harm the environment, according to three people familiar with their content.

Company executives have been investigating the employees after the memos were leaked to the French telecoms industry federation, people said. The source of the leak has not been found and no employees have been sanctioned, one of the people added.

Internal discord could fuel a growing anti-5G movement that started on social media and was embraced by the opposition Green Party, which won control of several cities in local elections in June. It has become the most prominent of several popular campaigns against the technology in Europe, some motivated by conspiracy theories linking it to Covid-19.

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Unlike neighboring countries, France has not started rolling out commercial 5G, which advocates say will allow applications ranging from digital factories to driverless cars and supercharged smartphones.

It can consume up to three times the power of 4G, but handles several times the data at much higher speeds. The government has warned that 4G towers will run out of capacity within the next two years.

An Orange spokesperson confirmed that the company had investigated a possible leak of an internal document, but had no plans to censor employees.

Orange “reaffirms the importance of 5G technology for the country’s competitiveness and its major utility in accelerating the environmental transition”, added the spokesperson.

Health problems

The government has resisted calls to delay the September 29 auction of 5G frequencies, which will begin nationwide rollout.

This week, he released a report dismissing health concerns related to 5G. In a speech on September 14, President Emmanuel Macron described critics of 5G as hostile to progress.

The Orange notes were written by “I’m So Green”, a group of employees who say they have around 1,000 members. Bloomberg obtained a copy of the second 24-page memo titled “Without 5G: Orange in the World of the Future.” He said the main beneficiaries of 5G will be smartphone makers, technology platforms, such as Whatsapp or YouTube, and the government.

“Orange will support all heavy investments (licenses, equipment, deployment) which will benefit other companies at the bottom of the food chain and possibly the State”, write the authors.

Senior industry officials have also expressed reservations about 5G, fearing a headlong rush to deploy it given the uncertain prospects for a return on investment.

France was emerging from a brutal wireless price war when coronavirus lockdowns took another chunk of the profits needed to pay for 5G. On September 8, the Orange share reached its lowest closing level since March 2014.

Chairman of Bouygues Telecom’s parent company Martin Bouygues questioned the wisdom of moving forward with 5G this year, saying in an editorial in May that the technology was not a priority in a pandemic .

Still, France’s Big Four say they will bid at the auction, in a process that will see them install 5G equipment at 10,500 sites by 2025.

© 2020 Bloomberg LP



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