France's Free Mobile hits operators where it hurts with LTE

France's three battle-scarred incumbent operators have grabbed onto LTE as something of a lifeline in part because upstart operator Free Mobile was lagging behind on its next-generation strategy, but now Iliad's Free has added LTE to its mobile subscriptions.

Even worse for the three incumbents Orange France, Bouygues Telecom and Vivendi-owned SFR, Iliad has added LTE to Free Mobile's €19.99 ($27.16) 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.

"The whole pricing structure put forth by Orange, SFR and Bouygues for 4G now looks very optimistic," Nomura analyst Frederic Boulan told Reuters.

On pricing, there is no comparison, and as things stand Orange has said it still plans to press ahead with its LTE price increases from February when it revamps its tariffs, Reuters reported.

However, 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 it now operates 700 LTE sites and said its services are available in 1,000 "communes," while it plans to continue to add sites this year. In contrast, contrast, Orange said it would have around 3,800 LTE sites installed at the end of the year.

The three incumbent operators still have the edge on LTE network coverage. Bouygues Telecom said it covered 63 per cent of the population or 40 million citizens by its launch date of Oct.1, and both Orange France and SFR said they plan to cover 40 per cent of the population with LTE by the end of this year. Free Mobile has not currently revealed its population coverage.

Citing data from French regulators, Reuters reported Bouygues Telecom had 4,655 LTE antennas as of Nov. 1, Orange had 3,439 activated and SFR had 718.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Le Figaro article (translated via Google Translate)

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