Arcep to review Free Mobile's national roaming deal with Orange

France's telecoms regulator Arcep intends to review a national 2G and 3G roaming agreement between Orange and Free Mobile under new powers it is set to gain under France's economic reform law, "Loi Macron".

In an interview with Le Figaro, Arcep's new president Sébastien Soriano said the watchdog would open discussions with Orange and Free to organise the end of their roaming deal as soon as the Loi Macron had been examined by the French Senate (the upper House).

The roaming contract permits Free to use Orange's network for the provision of mobile services in France until the end of 2017. Soriano added that the watchdog had no preconceptions about the timeframe, but said it would be coherent and feasible.

The telecoms component of Loi Macron, which was recently adopted by the National Assembly (the lower House), will significantly strengthen the powers of Arcep and allow it to amend the terms of network-sharing contracts between operators, for example.

Soriano described the roaming deal as a "patch" to enable the entry of Free Mobile as a fourth operator, but said: "If roaming becomes a substitution drug, it isn't good."

He noted that the goal would be to move to a model where each operator has its own network in densely populated areas, with shared networks in less densely areas.

Free Mobile has been making progress with the deployment of its own 3G network in France and is expected to progressively switch over to its own network by 2018: Soriano's predecessor Jean-Ludovic Silicani said in December that the company should be able to meet its requirement to cover 75 per cent of the population by Jan. 12 this year. This coverage obligation is independent of the national roaming agreement with Orange. Arcep is now verifying whether Free Mobile has complied with its obligation by carrying out a series of checks over several weeks.

Also in December, Arcep awarded spectrum in the 1800 MHz frequency band on a technology-neutral basis to Free Mobile, which will also be able to use the airwaves for the expansion of its LTE network across the country.

Meanwhile, Soriano touched upon the network-sharing agreement between SFR and Bouygues Telecom, saying the plan to share 2G, 3G and 4G masts "goes too far". He added that the law "does not ask Arcep to regulate a priori", but said the watchdog is able to set limits to the various agreements.

For more:
- see this Le Figaro article (in French)
- see this Arcep release on Free Mobile's 3G coverage obligation
- see this Financial Times article on Loi Macron (sub. req.)
- see this TeleGeography article on Loi Macron

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