France promises €3 billion to boost rural 4G coverage

Mobile World Congress is just around the corner and it promises to be a 5G bonanza, but one French politician is throwing a reality check out to the industry.

Secretary of State Julien Denormandie has pointed towards the rural communities in France as evidence that more needs to be done to improve connectivity across the country. The Parisians might be able to enjoy videos of baguettes whenever they want, but the farmers who can only access 2G and 3G networks will have to make do staring through the baker’s front window.

In an interview with French paper Journal du Dimanche, Denormandie announced the completion of talks with the major telcos. The objective of these talks was to end the ‘white spots’, areas deprived of internet or quality mobile networks, with a target date of 2020 to make 4G connectivity ubiquitous throughout the country. A €3 billion pot of cash will certainly help matters.

“We have engaged in intense negotiations with the four main operators to significantly improve the territory’s mobile coverage,” said Denormandie. “The Prime Minister had set an ultimatum: we reached Friday morning with this agreement with them, on the proposal of Arcep, the police constable. This is a historic agreement that will change the daily life of the French.”

The concern here is that the operators aren’t really that bothered about the villages in the countryside. In many circumstances, a telco has a presence there, but this is little more than show. Poor quality of service is littered throughout the fields, as the telcos prioritise investments in the more profitable urbanised areas. The difference in quality is quite remarkable, as your correspondent experienced during last year’s press trip to see how the Tour De France is connected.

As part of the agreement with the telcos each will be asked to provide an additional 5,000 installations to expand coverage to an additional 10,000 villages that do not have 4G right now. In some circumstances this will involve pooling resources and sharing equipment, and Denormandie promises it will not cost the tax payer a cent.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but Denormandie points towards spectrum license extensions as the bargaining chip of the government. And the cherry on top is improvement of indoor coverage as well. It does sound like Denormandie and his cronies have done a good job of forcing the telcos to start spending on the countryside.

“The objective was to bring a good quality of mobile telephony and digital to all French, in accordance with the commitments made by the President: a good speed for all by 2020, very high speed by 2022,” said Denormandie.

It is a timely reminder to the telcos who are clearing their throats for the 5G shouting match; just because there is a shiny new toy to play with, don’t forget about the half-arse job you’ve done on 4G so far.

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