The French government is to allow the introduction of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) in its domestic wireless market, and predicts that as a result the number of mobile phone groups in France could double by the end of the year. The announcement comes as debitel, a German firm controlled by British private equity group Permira, was today unveiled as the first new operator in the country in eight years. debitel is reported to be close to signing an MVNO deal with SFR to begin offering services over the latter’s 2G network. The country’s industry minister Patrick Devedijan says that the deployment of MVNOs will help increase competition in the sector and should lead to the introduction of two more operators by the end of the year to challenge the incumbents – SFR, Orange and Bouygues Telecom. The opening up of the French wireless market follows similar moves across Europe where the arrival of ‘virtual’ operators has had a positive impact on driving prices down for users. The most successful example is in the UK where Virgin Mobile has signed up more than four million customers since launching five years ago. debitel has set out its stall to be the cheapest operator in France and plans to target the text messaging market by offering SMS tariffs of EUR0.09, compared to the EUR0.15 charged by its rivals. The cost of texting in France has been at the centre of a long-running dispute and the industry regulator has promised to investigate pricing following widespread accusations of ‘daylight robbery’ from consumers.