Arcep asked French mobile operators to make specific plans for terminating network-sharing and national roaming agreements that have also been used to delay the construction of their own mobile networks.
The two network-sharing agreements in question concern a 2G/3G roaming pact between Free Mobile and Orange and a 2G/3G/4G accord between SFR and Bouygues Telecom. The regulator is now seeking consultation on a working document that includes draft guidelines on mobile network sharing, and said all comments should be submitted by Feb. 23, 2016.
The agreement with Orange was designed to allow Iliad to launch Free as a new mobile entrant in 2012, although Free was obliged to meet certain coverage requirements regarding the construction of its own mobile network.
Now, Free has not only enjoyed significant success on France's mobile market but it has also reached its 3G coverage targets and is building a 4G network. Last year, the company said it aimed to achieve 4G population coverage of around 60 per cent by the end of 2015. It reported 78 per cent 3G population coverage in April.
Arcep said the deal for Free Mobile to use Orange's 3G network should terminate between end-2018 and end-2020 and the contract for Orange's 2G network could end between end-2020 and end-2022.
"If this solution was justified to accompany the fourth mobile operator's entry into the marketplace, it cannot be justified over the long term," the regulator said. "The roadmap for terminating roaming agreements must now be defined, parallel to Free Mobile network rollouts."
With regard to the agreement between SFR and Bouygues Telecom, Arcep wants to see "a specific end date" to the 4G portion of the deal "because investments in 4G infrastructure are crucial to the market's vitality." As things stand, this agreement is due to expire between the end of 2016 and end-2018.
The regulator noted that its recommendations could change if the structure of the market changes. For example, Orange and Bouygues Telecom are currently in discussions on a possible merger that would reduce the number of operators from four to three.
"Arcep stresses that the document being published today for consultation was drafted by taking into account the market's current structure of four mobile network operators in Metropolitan France. Here too, the initial analysis could be amended should the market structure evolve," it said.
France's four mobile operators invested a combined €2.2 billion ($2.4 billion) in 2G, 3G and 4G networks in 2014, but regulator Arcep said more needs to be done to ensure more sparsely populated parts of France also have access to mobile broadband networks.
-see this Arcep release
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