France's operators prepare for LTE price war

SFR has become the last of France's three incumbent operators to announce low-cost LTE tariffs, after Free Mobile's latest onslaught on the French mobile market prompted both Bouygues Telecom and Orange France to add LTE to their own low-cost brands earlier in December.

Vivendi-owned SFR said it will include LTE in its low-cost RED plans for €25.99 ($35.90) a month with unlimited access to YouTube and 5 GB of data, starting from Jan. 14, 2014.

Iliad-owned Free Mobile's announcement that it had added LTE to its €19.99/€15.99 and €2 mobile plans first saw Bouygues Telecom say it is extending LTE to its low-cost B&YOU plans that currently cost €19.99 ($27.60) and €24.99 a month for 3 GB and 5 GB of data, respectively.

Orange France, while publicly haranguing Iliad and Free Mobile's founder Xavier Niel for his actions, has also now said it will integrate LTE into the plans of its low-cost Sosh brand starting Jan. 9, 2014. Sosh subscribers to the €24.99 plan will then be able to get LTE with 5 GB of inclusive data.

The French government has also 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.

Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg also accused Iliad founder Niel of destroying jobs in the telecoms sector, provoking a war of words between the two men on Twitter.

Meanwhile, France's Minister for the Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin, has promised to restore order to the French mobile market, after she also described the insults recently swapped between leading telecoms executives as belonging to the playground.

In an interview with Le Parisien, Pellerin promised to monitor the quality of LTE networks and the services they provide to customers starting in early 2014 by ensuring that telecoms regulator Arcep regained the power to enforce quality standards. In July, the Constitutional Council ruled that Arcep's power to impose sanctions are unconstitutional.

"We are going to correct this situation in early 2014," Pellerin told Le Parisien. "We are going to give the telecoms policeman his stick back."

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Le Parisien article (translated via Google Translate)

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