France’s Bouygues Telecom is setting the stage for the next phase of its 5G rollout by announcing that Ericsson will be supplying its 5G standalone (5G SA) core network. The strategic partnership between the companies will see the deployment of the cloud-native Ericsson Dual Mode 5G Core.
The French network operator indicated that it will launch 5G SA services in 2023, including solutions supported by 5G network slicing which requires a 5G SA network. Network slicing is a process whereby the amount of network connectivity needed for a task will be secured via a guaranteed ‘slice’ of the network – to help facilitate the broad range of expected use cases as the digitalization of France.
Sectors likely to benefit from the Ericsson-Bouygues Telecom Strategic Partnership include industry, logistics, smart transport, events and healthcare.
Bouygues Telecom’s 5G Standalone connectivity will also use network slicing – a process whereby the amount of network connectivity needed for a task will be secured via a guaranteed ‘slice’ of the network – to help facilitate the broad range of expected use cases as the digitalization of France, and the move to the fourth industrial revolution (4IE), accelerates.
Standalone 5G will also be central to use cases involving artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and automation. Sectors likely to benefit from the Ericsson-Bouygues Telecom Strategic Partnership include industry, logistics, smart transport, events and healthcare. Services resulting from the end-to-end 5G network strategic partnership are expected to be available from early 2023.
Network automation: 5G Core networks must be automated. Automation is required to handle the magnitude of tailor-made services and network slices that will be introduced with 5G. To manually or semi-automate all parts of the network is not feasible if SLAs are to be sustained. To keep up with latest software releases, it’s imperative to have a CI/CD mindset. The faster the latest network capabilities can be introduced, the faster new differentiating services can be rolled out and monetized.
Ericsson already provides radio access network (RAN) equipment to Bouygues Telecom. The operator had previously worked with Huawei, but was forced to explore alternative options after the nation’s government effectively banned Huawei from participating in 5G networks after 2028.
Rival operator Orange has already chosen its 5G standalone suppliers in Europe, plumping for Ericsson’s core network in Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Poland, and Nokia’s equivalent offering in France and Slovakia.
Iliad’s Free has selected Nokia for its 5G networks in France and Italy. (See Ericsson, Nokia at front of queue for Orange 5G contracts.)
France has not explicitly banned the use of equipment from China-based vendors such as Huawei in 5G networks.
ANSSI, France’s cybersecurity agency, set a very high bar for license authorizations in 5G and previously indicated it will not renew Huawei’s equipment licenses once they run their course.
This decision has posed a logistical and financial challenge to both Bouygues Telecom and rival SFR (Altice France), which have been heavily reliant on Huawei equipment in the past. Indeed, the operators were using Huawei equipment across about half their mobile footprint, according to data provided in 2020 by Strand Consult, a wireless telecom consulting group headed up by colleague John Strand.
In 2021, Bouygues Telecom and SFR began stripping out Huawei equipment from their networks, after unsuccessful legal efforts to challenge France’s stricter security policy for future 5G networks. Bouygues Telecom has said it would have to remove 3,000 Huawei antennas by 2028 in areas with very high population density and that it was prohibited from using Huawei antennas for 5G in Strasbourg, Brest, Toulouse and Rennes.
In a rather curious twist, French newspaper L’Express reported last year that Free filed a case at the Paris Administrative Court against permits given to Bouygues Telecom and SFR to use Huawei 5G antennas. Free claimed that its own request to ANSSI for clearance to use Huawei products was rejected, but Bouygues Telecom and SFR were given the greenlight, which it argued gave its two rivals an unfair advantage.
It seems that it’s not entirely clear the extent to which France’s operators might continue to use Huawei equipment in less sensitive parts of the networks in the coming years.
Meanwhile, Free is leading the charge when it comes to the deployment of 5G-enabled base stations in France. According to the latest update from Arcep, Free has over 14,400 sites compared to Bouygues Telecom’s 7,132; SFR’s 5,721; and Orange’s 3,491. Free’s sites are all in the 700Mhz/800MHz bands.