French 5G plans fuel divisions on environmental and economic impact


The recent 5G spectrum auction, which raised $ 3.3 billion for the French government, appears to be a victory for a country still mired in the destructive economic and health effects of the pandemic. Instead, France finds itself at the center of increasingly divisive debates over the economic, political, environmental and health implications of this next-generation wireless technology.Even as the auction heats up in recent weeks, a block of 70 left-wing elected officials called for a moratorium on 5G deployment, citing a range of concerns. This reluctance prompted President Emmanuel Macron to mock his opponents during a speech in which he said 5G would play a key role in accelerating the country’s digital transformation and maintaining its competitiveness.

“I hear a lot of voices being raised to explain to us that the complexity of contemporary issues must be tackled by going back to the kerosene lamp,” Macron said during a speech last month to French entrepreneurs gathered at the Elysium. “I don’t think the Amish model can solve the challenges of contemporary ecology.”

This coup sparked another uproar, with #JeSuisAmish trending on Twitter as critics continued to make their case for stopping the deployment of the technology.

The stakes for France are enormous. The country has lagged behind other major countries in its efforts to roll out 5G. France does not have a 5G commercial service, according to the European 5G Observatory, while countries like Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK have already launched at least one limited commercial service. . The 16 5G trials currently underway in France compare unfavorably with 34 in Germany, 56 in the UK and 39 in Spain.

The situation has been particularly difficult for a country that has worked hard to position itself as a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship. But officials hope France will fulfill a mandate from the European Union to have some sort of 5G service operational in at least two cities by the end of 2020.

In recent months, mobile operators Orange, SFR d’Altice Europe, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad (which operates the consumer brand “Free”) have submitted bids for 11 10 Megahertz (MHz) blocks, for a total of 110 MHz. In a hotly contested race, the companies jacked up the price almost $ 750 million more than expected. In the end, Orange received four songs, SFR three, and Bouygues and Illiad two each.

The winning telecommunications companies are now engaged in huge capital expenditures. They are expected to mainly buy equipment from Ericsson and Nokia, as Huawei’s access to the market has been limited for security reasons.

The managing director of the French telecoms association, Michel Combot, predicted that the resulting investment will create thousands of jobs. In an interview with The Dispatch, he anticipated a huge economic ripple as businesses and industrial users transform their businesses to harness the power of these new networks.

The case against 5G

Like many European countries, France has seen a wave of attacks against cell phone towers. These appear to have been driven by a mix of conspiracy theories, including one that claims 5G towers contributed to the spread of COVID-19.

The fact that this last idea is totally absurd has not made it easier for elected officials and telecommunications companies to prevent it from circulating. But while some conspiracy-minded people lurk on the edge of the debate, divisions over 5G in France largely reflect concerns raised by activists and mainstream politicians.

Health is certainly one of those concerns. Opponents fear that despite assurances from the industry, there has not been enough testing to measure the effects of 5G towers that will be deployed in much higher density than previous wireless generations to make the network advanced reliable.

“5G deserves a real debate,” said the mayor of Bordeaux, Pierre Hurmic, elected this summer amid a wave of victories by the Green Party (EELV) in municipal elections across France, in an interview on RTL. “We have to point out what the dangers of 5G are because there are dangers.”

But the concerns of environmentalists go far beyond the health debate. They point to reports that a typical 5G station could consume 3 times more power than a 4G station. This figure does not take into account the expected massive increase in connected objects that would continuously collect and transmit data.

Their fundamental question is: who devised a plan to produce all of this energy in a sustainable way that doesn’t accelerate global warming?

“If these figures are correct, we cannot deploy 5G without having a clear vision of the increase in electricity consumption that it will induce”, declared the mayor of the Union, Marc Péré, in an interview with The Dispatch. “We cannot blindly embark on this deployment without studying the issue of electricity consumption.”

Opponents have also expressed fears that 5G is worsening the digital divide in France. According to, which tracks mobile and broadband, 79.7% of France has 4G coverage, compared to 93% of rural America in France have long complained of being mobile phone deserts. Telecom operators have invested to fill these gaps, but critics of 5G are arguing for expanding 4G coverage rather than deploying advanced networks that will primarily benefit large cities.

Dueling 5G polls have added to the confusion over the depth of opposition in France. One carried out on behalf of an association of lawyers fighting against 5G said that 65% of French adults support a moratorium on 5G. A second poll by FIFG, one of the country’s most respected pollsters, suggested that 62% of French people wanted officials to facilitate the 5G deployment, but it also found that 48% wanted the deployment to be suspended until summer 2021.

It should also be noted in the IFOP poll that 20% support the destruction of cell phone towers, 50% are concerned about the health effects of electromagnetic waves, and 15% believe there is a link between COVID and 5G.

At the root of these concerns were other concerns, including fears that 5G would spur an increase in connected objects that would “degrade human relationships”, increase surveillance and data collection, and deepen economic inequalities.

Then there was the scenario proposed by the environmentalist mayor of Grenoble, Eric Piolle, who said: “5G is to watch porn on your phone, even when you are in the elevator. Is Watching HD Porn A Progress? ”

The FIFG survey revealed that 82% of French people disagree with Piolle. (And yes, they really probed that question.)

The case of 5G

Beyond Macron’s Amish commentary, government and telecom officials have continued to argue for the technological and economic benefits of 5G while trying to reassure the public.

From a government perspective, 5G is key to ensuring that a wide range of industries remain competitive, especially when the United States and China take the lead in 5G deployments. Tech sovereignty is a big issue here, and falling behind 5G risks leaving more sectors of the economy dependent on technology developed by companies based elsewhere, especially as markets move forward. digitize.

“The United States and China have [5G] as a major factor of economic competitiveness, and 12 European countries are already in the process of deploying this technology ”, declared the Minister of Digital Cédric O in an interview with The world. “We need 5G, whether for industry, agriculture or environmental transition.”

O also referred to numerous scientific studies that have demystified the notions of link between cell phone towers and health problems. Regarding the environmental impact, O said the government is developing a roadmap to reduce energy leakage by working with telecom stakeholders. He argued that 5G consumes less power per unit of data transmitted than 4G (although 5G networks transmit much higher volumes of data) and can be put into a sort of sleep mode when not. not used.

“We need to be very clear: 5G means more speed but less power consumption,” O said in the interview.

Supporters have also argued that 5G will lead to all kinds of productivity and environmental gains by expanding automation in various industries to reduce the consumption of raw materials and enable greater energy efficiency.

Ultimately, opponents may not have real influence. Following the spectrum auction, Orange has announced its intention to start commercial service in December. These plans may receive a warm welcome despite concerns expressed by some consumers.

Indeed, the IFOP poll revealed the seemingly conflicting feelings of consumers about 5G. Even though they are worried about environmental and health risks, 50% of city dwellers said they would likely sign up for a 5G plan when it becomes available. And 75% believe it will bring big improvements for distance learning, telemedicine and remote working.

Combot said the industry will continue to consult with residents and elected officials when rolling out 5G. But he said The Dispatch that the speed of the 5G deployment will ultimately depend on the ability of operators to make their case to businesses and consumers: “Slowing the deployment will also depend on our ability to demonstrate the usefulness of 5G.”


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