The French regulator, the Authorite de Regulation des Telecommunications (ART), has published a report on the state of the country’s mobile market at the end of 2003, revealing that the total number of cellular subscribers grew by 8% to 41.7 million during the year, translating to a penetration rate of 69.1% . Of the total, Orange accounted for 20.3 million, up from 18.5 million at the same time the previous year, although its market share dropped marginally from 49.02% to 48.8%. Number two operator Société Française du Radiotéléphone (SFR) claimed 14.7 million users, up from 14.2 million; its market share was virtually unchanged at 35.3%, while Bouyges Telecom had 6.6 million and a share of 15.9%, up from 5.6 million and 15.49%. According to the ART, the majority of the growth was seen in the fourth quarter of the year, when a total of 1.5 million customers were added. All three cellcos have been awarded 3G licences, although none have launched services.
Because the market is fast approaching saturation, interest in 3G services is poor. One of the hot topics on the French mobile scene of late has been that of wireless local area network (W-LAN) services. In November 2002 The French government ruled that it would allow W-LAN hot-spot services on the 2.4GHz frequency, giving operators access to unlicensed spectrum specifically for the provision of broadband internet services. In an attempt to kick-start development in the sector the ART passed legislation governing the installation of public W-LAN networks based on the WiFi (or 802.11b) standard. Service providers are permitted to offer services in 58 ‘departements’ without a licence; in all other metropolitan areas conditions remain unchanged for the time being, although more regions will be added in 2004.
Since the enactment of new legislation there has been a rash of service announcements. In April 2003 Cegetel published plans to trial WiFi services in Paris, launching hot-spots at the Gare du Nord via its joint venture with train operator SNCF, Télécom Developpement; Cegetel mobile subsidiary SFR will provide technical assistance for the project. Cegetel’s announcement followed Orange’s revelation to roll out a network of public wireless LANs in French hotels, airports and motorway service stations. It plans to cover 50% of France’s major business centres by 2005.