Published on February 4th, a Tactis study shows that in peri-urban areas, around 30% more sites will be needed to offer a 5G service level equivalent to 4G. This is particularly true in rural areas, where twice as many sites will be needed to provide equivalent coverage, and up to three times as many to deliver a broadband service.
To arrive at these estimates, Tactis experts have simulated 4G coverage in several peri-urban and rural areas from existing mobile antenna sites. They then simulated what 5G coverage would look like based on these same sites. In its projections, Tactis uses only the 3.5 GHz frequency band. However, it is clear that coverage is much less in 5G than in 4G.
Why such differences? Because the frequencies used to provide 5G will not be the same as for 4G, and they do not have the same characteristics. "Current 4G deployments use low frequencies, which carry far, while the high frequencies that will be used for 5G deployments, in the 3.5 GHz band, offer a lot of throughput but carry much less far," explains Julien Renard, radio expert at Tactis. However, the Tactis simulations do not include the 700 MHz frequency band, even though these frequencies are low and allow much better coverage of territories. To explain this choice, Julien Renard points out that the 700 MHz band will not allow us to benefit from "all the promises of 5G". It is impossible, he says, to offer a real broadband service with these frequencies.
The densification of 5G networks in the heart of cities and the most urbanized areas, which are generally very profitable for operators, will certainly be a priority for Orange, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free. On the other hand, the firm is looking at peri-urban areas and rural areas, which are less profitable. To acquire 3.5 GHz frequencies, operators will have to commit to ensuring that by 2024 and 2025, 25% of the number of 5G sites deployed will be in rural areas. However, there is no obligation to deploy new sites in rural areas. However, this will be an imperative for providing quality 5G coverage, according to Tactis.
The risk? A new digital divide between urban and rural areas. The latter could end up, in the long term, with non-existent or poor quality 5G networks. The solution to further densify the networks could come from a greater mutualisation of mobile infrastructures.
Operators are already thinking about this. In an interview with Les Echos, Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange, judged that "the question of an advanced mutualization is raised. [...] Orange has signed (agreements in this sense) in Spain, Poland and Belgium. In France, some of our competitors already share their networks to a large extent; we are also thinking about it". The major manoeuvres could start as early as this year, once the 5G frequencies have been allocated.
Source : La Tribune