France’s consumer watchdog UFC Que Choisir has accused French mobile operators — Free, Orange, SFR and Bouygues — of purposely degrading the quality of their respective 3G services in order to encourage consumers to adopt 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, local newspaper Les Echos reports. According to the article, the regulator analysed the performance of the 3G networks by taking 3,040 measures in Ile-de-France, Toulouse, Grenoble and Lille to determine the ‘rate of non-quality’ of mobile internet, including session fail, successful download and fluidity of the services. The results were then compared to the findings of a previous study concluded in December 2012. UFC Que Choisir reported that in the period under review, transmission speeds over SFR and Orange’s networks had significantly declined, and although Free Mobile’s own network had ‘a dramatic increase in non-quality’, when roaming over Orange’s network the company showcased a ‘spectacular improvement.’ For its part, Bouygues was denounced for having skipped the deployment of 3.5G/HSPA+ technology in favour of LTE services. UFC Que Choisir has expressed concern that the four operators have intentionally degraded the quality of their 3G networks to encourage consumers to adopt 4G packages, which are at least EUR10 (USD13.5) more expensive than the 3G services on offer.
Alain Bazot, president of UFC-Que Choisir, said in relation to the degradation of Free’s network: ‘There is a correlation between the deployment of Free Mobile’s own network and increasing rates of non-quality. Free seems to favour the geographic expansion at the expense of quality.’ He then added: ‘By January 2015, Free will cover more than 75% of the population with its own network, which explains our concerns about the quality of the network’. Free Mobile promptly responded to UFC Que Choisir’s accusations by denouncing the watchdog for relying on a ‘partial and biased study with a highly questionable methodology, which ignores the reality of use’. The operator has also hinted at its intention to initiate legal proceedings against the organisation.