Jacqueline Gourault, France’s Minister of Territorial Cohesion and Relations with Local Authorities, Cédric O, Secretary of State for the Digital Transition and Electronic Communications, chaired a meeting of the “Regional digital coverage” steering committee, attended by Sébastien Soriano, Chair of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications, Postal Affairs and Print Media Distribution (Arcep), and representatives of local authority associations, as well as key players from the digital network deployment sector.
This steering committee provided an opportunity to obtain a preliminary status report on the New Deal for Mobile, coinciding with the first deadlines for the commitments that operators made in January 2018, which were then written into their licences as obligations. The New Deal for Mobile marked an unprecedented change in scale for national mobile coverage targets. Based on a proposal from Arcep, the Government chose to make territorial cohesion a priority in awards procedures. As a result, rather than focusing on a financial criterion, the Government chose to steer operators’ efforts towards future investment, by setting out coverage obligations of unprecedented ambition. The findings presented at the meeting served to highlight the concrete results achieved by the New Deal for Mobile, and to underscore how a strong rollout momentum was maintained despite the public health crisis of the past several months.
The New Deal for Mobile is, first, the goal of a fully 4G mobile network. Arcep, which is responsible for verifying that these operator commitments are met, estimates that 96% of the territory currently has 4G coverage supplied by at least one operator (+ 7 points compared to 1 January 2018) and 76% have 4G coverage provided every operator (+ 31 points compared to 1 January 2018).
The New Deal also includes a targeted coverage scheme, whose recipient areas are identified by local authorities:
- 2,066 areas have been identified by local authorities in eight orders signed by the Minister responsible for telecommunications since 2018. These orders require operators to build and bring into service a new cell site within a maximum two years after signing (or one year if the local authority provides serviced land connected to the electrical grid).
- To date, there are 462 new cell sites providing voice/SMS services with “good coverage” thanks to 3G and superfast mobile (4G) services in the areas that were identified by local authorities as priorities. The list of these priority areas can be found in the annex.
- Arcep, which is responsible for monitoring operators’ compliance with their obligations, provided a status report on the 445 sites that had been identified in the order of 4 July 2018 (amended), and which were to be in service by 9 October 2020: 403 of the 445 cell sites – i.e. close to 91% – are operational. Arcep is currently analysing the reasons for the delays in the remaining nine percent.
- This momentum will continue: 800 additional areas could be identified in 2021 and 2022, then 600 more annually in the following years, up to a maximum 5,000 per operator. A monitoring system had been put into place with operators to ensure that the new lockdown did not hamper the pace of deployments.
In addition, more than 500 areas have been identified where internet connection will be improved thanks to “fixed” 4G which helps supply reliable high speed access to certain parts of the country.
Among operators’ other obligations is improving indoor coverage. To this end, operators today offer their eligible residential customers Voice and SMS over Wi-Fi solutions.
Jacqueline Gourault: “Erasing the digital divide above all means ensuring that everyone has a good connection. The New Deal for Mobile that we launched in 2018, and which is reaching an important milestone today, is designed to achieve this: enabling every one of our territories to claim digital as an asset.”
“The New Deal for Mobile represents an unparalleled boost to regional digital development. In the coming weeks, all of our networks will have made the transition to 4G  and all 462 areas will have mobile coverage. The pace of these deployments needs to accelerate further still as the current public health crisis is creating legitimate demands for better mobile coverage,” states Cédric O.
Sébastien Soriano: “Arcep welcomes the achievements made under the New Deal for Mobile, thanks to the mobilisation of operators, local players and public authorities. Arcep will work to ensure that operators comply with all of their obligations.”
 Except for 25% of sites belonging to the older City centre not-spot programme, which will all be upgraded to 4G by the end of 2022