Conclusion of a Historic Agreement to Implement Widespread Mobile Coverage
As of 31 December 2017, 3,298 communes in the “White Zones – Rural Communities” programme (of which 1,260 are mountain communes) out of 3,856 in the programme as a whole have mobile internet access via mutualisation among the four mobile network operators. The latter have fulfilled their coverage commitments under the “White Zones – Rural Communities” programme within the established timeframes.
Aware of the fundamental stakes of digital territorial planning and, above all, of the needs of the population, network operators set to work on an agreement with the public authorities over several months in order to substantially accelerate the rolling out of mobile coverage. Establishing a significant contractual mandate, this agreement has become a reality as of last 12th of January.
What constitutes the agreement?
For the first time, the French State has made digital territorial planning a priority by virtue of such an unprecedented agreement. Network operators have committed to expediting the deployment of territorial coverage, whereas the State, together with the French Regulator of the Electronic Communications and Postal Sectors (ARCEP), has committed to providing operators with the necessary foresight and stability in respect of frequencies until 2030.
Furthermore, the operators have undertaken to increase their investment by several billion euros over the next five years. This will supplement the 8.9 billion euros already injected into the networks in 2016.
WIDESPREAD EXPANSION OF 4G ON THE OPERATORS’ EXISTING NETWORK
All inhabited zones currently receiving 3G shall have full 4G coverage by the end of 2020. Those sites in the “White Zones – Rural Communities” programme are to receive 4G by 2022, with a milestone of 75% of sites set for the end of 2020. This represents an acceleration by more than five years in comparison with previous obligations. Major transport routes have also been taken into account: key sections of the road network shall have 4G coverage by the end of 2020 and the regional rail network shall have 90% coverage by 2025.
CHANGING THE “TEMPERATURE GAUGE” FOR MEASURING MOBILE NETWORK COVERAGE
The shared objective is to offer 4G coverage of a standard equivalent to the “good coverage” classification used in ARCEP’s mobile coverage maps. This will be achieved by implementing a “targeted coverage system” designed to facilitate the identification by operators of 5,000 new zones with the help of local officials and the densification of the existing mobile network in order to bring forward “good coverage” for 4G.
IMPROVING INDOOR COVERAGE, USING VOICE OVER WI-FI IN PARTICULAR
Both diversity among territories and the layouts of buildings have contributed to ongoing difficulties in ensuring mobile network coverage. As a result of a collaboration with operators, well in advance of the conclusion of the agreement with the French Government, the Federation published a page on its website dedicated to solutions for improving indoor coverage, together with a leaflet. See our educational guide. Operators have committed to continuing the development of these coverage solutions.
DEVELOPING FIXED-LINE 4G OFFERS IN ZONES WITH AND WITHOUT EXISTING 4G COVERAGE
How will this agreement be implemented?
In a joint effort with communities, certain deployments shall be mutualised as part of the “targeted coverage system” – either pylons alone or also antennas – in line with the pre-existing Strategic Sites and “White Zones – Rural Communities” programmes.
Operators shall provide coverage for 5,000 new zones using this cutting-edge system, which shall cover white zones with “good coverage”, strategic “territorial” sites and grey zones. These areas are to be identified by the Government by way of close consultation due to be undertaken with local communities. The financing for the sites (e.g. pylons and antennas) shall fall under the responsibility of the operators.
Annual quotas have been established – namely, 600 defined zones to be covered per operator from 2018, 700 in 2019, 800 in 2020, 2021 and 2022 and 600 every subsequent year. For 2018, operators will take over all of the sites (e.g. “White Zones – Rural Communities” and strategic sites) constrained by a lack of public funding.
The Federation and its members are fully mobilised to support and implement this historic agreement. Only by means of a successful partnership between the operators, the regulator, the State and local communities can this objective of territorial cohesion be accomplished.
Furthermore, the Federation and network operators are continually requesting the simplification and stabilisation of the administrative process for receiving prior authorisation to install mobile sites and the removal of certain constraints associated with urban planning regulations. A number of these proposals are expected to be incorporated into the draft law on the Evolution of Housing and Digital Development (ELAN), which will be scrutinised by a Council of Ministers in March.
What are the “White Zones – Rural Communities” and Strategic Sites programmes?
Network operators have enlisted in the different “waves” of the “White Zones – Rural Communities” (“Zones Blanches – Centres-Bourgs” – ZBCB) programme, the aim of which is the provision of mobile telephony services by all operators in the remotest areas of France. Since 2008, the programme has been progressively expanding to include mobile internet and now covers 3,856 communes, after a decision of May 2017, consolidating the programme following a host of measures carried out on the ground.
Whereas the “White Zones – Rural Communities” programme accounts for approximately 1% of the French population, above all it corresponds to more than 7% of the land surface, an area almost as large as the Netherlands.
The “Strategic Sites” programme was first implemented in 2015 and targets the coverage of sites beyond rural town centres, especially those of interest to the economy and to the tourism industry, with an agreement on the part of operators to cover 1,300 sites within five years. These sites have been identified using the “France Mobile” platform for resolving mobile network coverage issues.
The new “targeted coverage” system will therefore replace these two initiatives.
How do mutualised sites or pylons work?
Individual network operators have their own sites but allow other operators to share them.
Mutualisation takes several forms: passive (the pylon is shared while each operator deploys its own antennas) or active (the antennas are shared).
In the interests of transparency vis-à-vis local authorities and the public, a progress report on the mobile internet coverage across sites is published on the Federation’s website on a regular basis.
The inauguration of multi-operator sites
Since July 2016, the Federation has organised the inaugurations of multi-operator sites offering mobile internet access. To this day, the Federation organised 20 of such launches.
See the previous inaugurations.
Program progress (french links)
- 19/10/2017 : Press release
- 10/07/2017 : Press release
- 21/06/2017 : Press release
- 25/04/2017 : Press release
- 20/02/2017 : Press release
- 25/01/2017 : Press release
To know more (french links)
- Detailed presentation of the agreement between the operators and the public authorities: bit.ly/220118ARCEP
- Plateforme France Mobile
- Network coverage map Bouygues Telecom
- Network coverage map Orange
- Network coverage map SFR