France is stepping up its efforts to fund the development of homegrown 6G technology.

The French government on Tuesday launched a new support scheme for R&D projects centred on advanced 5G, 6G, and future generations of networks. More specifically, it is interested in solutions linked to virtualisation, open interfaces on access networks, edge computing, security, and the integration of AI and machine learning. A call for projects has been issued, and the application period will remain open until the end of February 2024.

Against a backdrop of supply chain disruption wrought by the pandemic and global trade disputes, there is unsurprisingly a heavy emphasis on producing sovereign solutions. France said it is on the lookout for projects that can guarantee high levels of security and reliability.

“The developments carried out may relate to all the telecom equipment (software, hardware and services) for the access network, the core network, the edge cloud, the connected 5G terminals, [and] the technological bricks necessary for the deployment of innovative uses,” the government said in a statement.

What also comes as no surprise is that the government is keen on environmentally-responsible innovations, “particularly with regard to controlling network energy consumption, and taking into account the challenges of eco-design of materials, in particular in order to limit the material footprint of digital equipment.”

The scheme comes under the umbrella of president Macron’s France 2030 strategy, a €30 billion plan unveiled in autumn 2021 aimed at modernising the economy, including but not limited to the energy, transport, food, health and culture sectors. On Tuesday, the government said €750 million of the France 2030 budget will be funnelled into the 5G and 6G R&D support scheme by 2025.

“With this new call for projects, we are positioning France at the forefront of global innovation on the network technologies of the future,” said Jean-Noël Barrot, Minister Delegate for digital transition and telecommunications, in a statement. “Let’s continue the momentum instilled by France 2030 to guarantee the country’s technological sovereignty.”

The call for projects has been timed to pick up where the last one left off. Called the ‘5G acceleration strategy’, it was launched in summer 2021 with a budget of €480 million. Its objectives are – by 2025 – to stimulate the creation of 20,000 new jobs; turn France’s 5G sector into a €15 billion market; help tech-focused SMEs generate half their turnover from exports; and generally promote France’s scientific excellence on the world stage. It has since been swallowed up by the broader France 2030 strategy.

When it comes to the state of 5G in France today, performance-wise, it’s a mixed bag. Compared to its immediate neighbours, it is more than holding its own. According to figures published by Opensignal, the average 5G download speed in France is 201 Mbps. However, that average is heavily skewed by Orange, which sits way out in front with an average speed of 310 Mbps. Taking Orange out of the equation, the combined average speed of Bouygues, SFR and Free Mobile is 165 Mbps. That is still ahead of Spain on 137 Mbps, and way better than Germany and the UK on 59 Mbps and 39 Mbps respectively.

France is still somewhat off the pace on the world stage though. South Korea sits top of the table with nearly 432.7 Mbps, ahead of Malaysia on 382.2 Mbps. Sweden, which covers an area not too dissimilar in size to mainland France, sits third with 333.9 Mbps.

There is still room for improvement then, but with the government actively trying to establish a regulatory framework that encourages – and financially backs – the development of advanced cellular technology, it will no doubt contribute to industry’s confidence in investing in broader and deeper network coverage.

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