Incumbents refuse to play ball with Free on 3G network access

17 May 2010

French daily Les Echos today reports that the entry of Iliad’s Free Mobile in the country’s wireless market is being threatened by the unwillingness of the three incumbents – Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom – to discuss 3G network sharing arrangements. The newcomer’s launch, possibly in early 2012, looks set to be ‘seriously complicated’ the paper writes, as the big three cellcos have thus far declined any offers to negotiate the use of their 3G networks and are currently only discussing 2G roaming agreements. Orange and Bouygues have apparently refused to enter into negotiations on the matter while SFR boss, Frank Esser, is quoted as saying only last week: ‘We only discuss a roaming offer to its subscribers for 2G, as the law requires. No 3G.’ Given that Free Mobile’s 3G network rollout plans, as submitted to the regulator Arcep last winter, suggest it will be 2015 before its own 3G infrastructure has covered 69% of the population, the start-up looks set to be left with a significant shortfall at a time when all network operators are pushing users towards advanced UMTS communications networks. The paper says that Arcep may be forced to step in to resolve the situation or that, failing that, Iliad could go before the Competition Authority or the Council of State to seek a sensible resolution.

France, Iliad (Free)