Free plans to cover 95% of French population with 3G by 2016

5 Nov 2014

Xavier Niel, the owner of French telecoms operator Iliad (Free), has disclosed that the company is aiming to cover 95% of the country’s population with its own 3G network infrastructure by the end of 2016, domestic newspaper La Tribune writes. According to the executive, the mobile operator has already surpassed its goal to extend 3G connectivity to 75% of the population by January 2015, while also revealing that Free’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) network is currently available to more than half of the French population.

As noted in TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Free was awarded a 3G concession in mid-January 2010 and duly entered into a 2G/3G wholesale roaming agreement with rival Orange France, which allowed Free’s subscribers to roam on the Orange network while the cellco built out its own infrastructure. The 3G roaming agreement between the two sides will end in 2018, at which date Free must cover 90% of the population with its own 3G infrastructure, as outlined in its licence obligations. Mr Niel said that the roaming agreement with Orange ‘costs a fortune’ and is plagued by ‘saturation problems’.

When asked about a possible resurgence of interest in acquiring a stake in larger rival Bouygues Telecom, following Iliad’s failed takeover of T-Mobile US, Xavier Niel pointed out that Free was not a potential buyer, adding: ‘For regulatory purposes … there will be no consolidation in France.’ As previously reported by CommsUpdate, in June 2014 Iliad made an informal offer of between EUR4 billion (USD5.4 billion) and EUR5 billion to buy larger rival Bouygues Telecom. However, as Bouygues was reportedly seeking around EUR7 billion-EUR8 billion for the unit, the discussions promptly stalled.

France, Iliad (Free), Orange France