Will French operators be banned from using Huawei equipment in their 5G networks? For months, the question has fascinated the telecoms community. According to Arthur Dreyfuss, president of the French Telecoms Federation (FFT), such an embargo would be “unacceptable”. According to Martin Bouygues, it would be a “distortion of competition”. And for good reason, the consequences of such a decision would be colossal on the networks of Bouygues Telecom * and SFR. In the process, it is the customers of these operators who would toast. On the front line, the inhabitants of south-west France would be very badly off. Explanations.
In the event of a ban, entire regions must be re-equipped
Let us first recall the very nature of the 5G network that will be deployed in France. Initially, it will be a 5G called “non stand alone”. This means that it is grafted onto the existing 4G network, and therefore onto the pylons and antennas distributed throughout France. And it is precisely this situation that worries Bouygues and SFR. According to FFT data, 47.5% of Bouygues Telecom’s 4G network is equipped by Huawei. The figures are even more spectacular on the SFR side, with 52% of the network supplied by the Chinese manufacturer. For their part, Orange and Free do not integrate Huawei equipment, but only those of their European competitors, Nokia and Ericsson. Note that all of these figures relate to metropolitan France, excluding Île-de-France. By prohibiting Huawei from participating in 5G networks, the State is asking Bouygues Telecom and SFR to deeply transform its 4G network.
“If Huawei equipment is banned from 5G networks, Bouygues Telecom and SFR will be forced to replace their fleet of 4G antennas in entire regions of the country, explains Michel Combot, director general of the FFT. This operation, which we call a ‘swap’, turns out to be long and particularly expensive. It can last between five months and a year and a half, depending on your budget and your subcontractors. “ During this period when Huawei equipment will be replaced by authorized equipment compatible with 5G, the network connection will not be called into question, but operators will lag behind their competitors Orange and Free.
A map of France cut by equipment manufacturers
This major replacement will affect entire regions, because operators cut France into plates before equipping the country. “On each plate, the precise delimitation of which varies from one operator to another, the equipment deployed is all from the same supplier, even of the same model”, explains Senate report. The result obtained is a map of France cut by equipment manufacturers: Huawei provides for installation in the southern half of France for SFR and in the west of the country for Bouygues. What raise questions about the network coverage of the southwest of France in case of ban.
If the operators concentrate all of the equipment manufacturer’s installations in the same area, “it’s simply to facilitate and optimize deployment”, explains Michel Combot. With a single antenna model, therefore a single set of characteristics, it is much simpler to organize the distribution of the antennas. It’s also easier to maintain the network this way. “ But simply replacing the antenna is not enough, emphasizes the leader of the FFT. “The antenna of an equipment supplier comes on a suspension pole where all the cables are specific to each equipment supplier. Replacing the antenna means replacing everything that goes with it.”
Each “plaque” shelters approximately four or five thousand sites, each gathering one or more pylons. However, on the plates without Huawei equipment, the operation seems infinitely simpler. It will suffice “to carry out a simple update of the 2G / 3G / 4G equipment already deployed”, says the Senate report. It is ultimately only during the deployment of 5G “stand alone”, taking advantage of its own network of antennas, that all operators will have to look into a real global reconstruction of the network. It is also at this time that we can see the development of small cells 5G, these antennas installed on the bus stands allowing a particularly swift flow.
* Lesnumériques.com is published by a subsidiary of TF1, itself owned by the Bouygues group.