Bouygues Telecom responds to LTE challenge, as France's government knocks Free

Free Mobile's recent announcement that it has added LTE to its mobile tariffs has already persuaded one rival to bring forward plans to include LTE in its low-cost tariffs, while the French government has condemned the Iliad-owned upstart operator for what it clearly considers to be a rash move.

On the blog of its low-cost B&YOU unit, Bouygues Telecom said it has decided to extend its LTE services to most of its mobile offers before Christmas, although it's not yet clear which B&YOU tariffs will be upgraded. B&YOU "forfaits" include a €19.99 ($27.37) tariff with 3 GB of data, matching the Free Mobile tariff.

The operator added that recent movements of its competitors had forced it to bring its plans forward a little.

Free Mobile this week said it has added LTE to its €19.99 and €15.99 mobile plans, with up to 20 GB of data at no extra charge for users.

That price compares with €30.99 for Orange's 2 GB SIM-only "Origami" plan with LTE, €30.99 for SFR's SIM-only 3 GB "Carré 4G" plan and €29.99 for Bouygues Telecom's SIM-only 3 GB "Forfait Sensation 4G" plan.

Orange has said it still plans to press ahead with its LTE price increases from February when it revamps its tariffs, Reuters reported.

An Orange spokesperson noted to FierceWireless:Europe that the operator already has more than 3,800 LTE sites in service, covering 866 towns and cities across France., and that by the end of the year, Orange will provide coverage for 50 per cent of the French population and aim to reach 1 million LTE customers.   

"In contrast, Free are offering a service based on 700 4G masts in 1,000 communes," the spokesperson said. "That is less than one mast per town. In addition, in their own communication, Free have taken every precaution to point out (in small print) the limits of their own network by clarifying in particular that the quality of service not only depends on mast coverage and the number of users per cell, but also on the quality of backhaul equipment that links each 4G mast to the main backbone network. We can only be skeptical as to the quality of service that Free's 4G-users can expect." 

Iliad continues to face criticism over its network coverage and indeed still relies on a roaming agreement with Orange for its 3G coverage. Nonetheless, Iliad insists that while it now operates 700 LTE sites and said its services are available in 1,000 "communes," it plans to continue to continue to add sites.

The French government has been highly critical of Free Mobile's move with LTE and warned that Iliad's claims to offer LTE speeds despite the lack of coverage risked confusing consumers and damaging the image of the new technology.

"As Iliad builds out its mobile network, the announcement of the operator seems to be a risky and audacious bet," Arnaud Montebourg, industry minister, and Fleur Pellerin, junior minister for telecom and digital issues, wrote in a statement.

"A low-cost strategy inevitably leads to under-investment in infrastructure, poorer service, and the destruction of jobs," the ministers added.

In a separate statement, Pellerin and French social economic minister Benoît Hamon called on consumers to check operators' coverage maps for LTE before making their choice.

For more:
- see this B&YOU post (translated by Google Translate)

Related Articles:
France's Free Mobile hits operators where it hurts with LTE
Bouygues Telecom revs up for October LTE launch
Virgin Mobile France plans LTE launch in 2014
SFR launches LTE in Paris as Bouygues Telecom unveils prices
Bouygues Telecom plans wide LTE launch in October