France Telecom warns Free Mobile over network abuse

France Telecom (FT) Orange is becoming increasingly concerned at the level of network congestion from Iliad's Free Mobile subscribers on its network, and has cautioned its roaming partner it will protect its own customers if traffic demand becomes a problem.

According to an article in the French magazine Le Point, FT Orange sent Free Mobile CEO Maxime Lombardini a letter expressing its extreme concern at a "very serious incident" that took place on Feb. 7. In the letter, FT Orange said that its network was unavailable for two hours due to Free Mobile assigning too many of its subscribers to the Orange network, instead of them being switched to the Free's own network.

Commenting on the situation, FT Orange CEO Stephane Richard said that the roaming contract included options for FT Orange to protect its own subscribers if traffic demands were too high, adding that both sides could avoid problems by respecting their promises as part of the roaming deal.

"I wouldn't be insulting anyone by saying that what is happening has not been well planned for," Richard told Le Point "When you put these kinds of [low-cost] offers on the market, you should expect there to be a lot of demand. Free Mobile largely underestimated the demand."

A report carried by Les Echos said that FT Orange claimed its network is handling 97 per cent of the calls being made by Free Mobile customers. This level of usage has prompted FT Orange to question Free Mobile's network planning, and has lead to urgent requests to the new operator to ramp-up its infrastructure investment to cope with demand.

An unnamed FT Orange exec told Les Echos: "We have yet to see any improvement [in Free Mobile's network]. We expect accurate predictions for the traffic that passes over our network so we can anticipate the installation of gateways between our network and theirs. The current situation is not sustainable in the long term."

Since Free Mobile burst onto the scene as France's fourth operator and launched its main offer last month of unlimited calls, texts and 3GB of data for €19.99 per month, the French mobile market has been engulfed in a price war. The established operators, which have been seriously undercut on price, have criticised Free Mobile for poor customer service and network management, and for failing to properly anticipate the demand the company would experience.

For more:
- see this Le Point article (translated via Google Translate
- see this Reuters article
- see this Les Echos article (translated via Google Translate)

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