French cellcos SFR and Bouygues Telecom have started to pool their respective Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks in selected municipalities, domestic news source Echos du Net reports, in line with a previously announced agreement. A spokesperson for Bouygues Telecom confirmed the development and highlighted that the network sharing agreement ‘concerns only sparsely populated areas in the defined areas for pooling’. Although SFR subscribers in Vichy, Ales, Nimes, Tarbes and Frejus are said to have benefited from improved 4G coverage (including access to LTE-1800 technology), Bouygues Telecom has admitted that the tie-up is initially one-sided, with Bouygues Telecom customers not yet able to connect to SFR’s network.
TeleGeography notes that, although Bouygues and SFR had been in talks over the possibility of sharing their network infrastructure in rural areas of France since early 2012, it was not until July 2013 that the two companies entered into exclusive negotiations. The two operators finally sealed the deal in late-January 2014; under the terms of the agreement, Bouygues and SFR decided to create a joint venture company to operate 11,500 mobile towers covering 57% of the population in underserved areas, eliminating around 7,000 towers between them. They will share cell sites and antennas but not spectrum or core elements of the network, which they say will allow them to offer differentiated services to consumers. Following the strategic agreement, Bouygues and SFR expect to reap EUR300 million (USD416.61 million) a year in cost savings by 2017-2018.