Free Mobile achieves 3G network target with 78% coverage

Free Mobile said it has achieved coverage targets set by French telecoms regulator Arcep for its 3G network after deploying 5,000 base stations, and claimed that the rollout of the network is the fastest in France.

The Iliad-owned operator, which currently uses a national roaming agreement with Orange to supplement its 2G and 3G coverage, said its own 3G network now covers 78 per cent of France's population. Arcep has also confirmed that Free Mobile has complied with the terms of its licence.

The operator said it is continuing to invest heavily in its mobile network rollout with a view to covering 90 per cent of the French population by January 2018. By that point, the roaming agreement with Orange for 2G and 3G services is also due to expire.

Orange has previously noted that the roaming agreement has always been ring fenced within a set timeframe, and should gradually expire by early 2018--the date from which Free has an obligation to cover 95 per cent of the population.

Free Mobile has also set itself the target of covering 60 per cent of the population with 4G (LTE) by the end of 2015.

Parent Iliad revealed in March that Free Mobile achieved a market share of 15 per cent by the end of 2014 and is targeting a share of 25 per cent in the long term. It plans to deploy 1,500 sites in 2015 after deploying 1,900 3G sites in 2014.

Free Mobile said it achieved its coverage targets in an increasingly difficult environment for mobile network rollouts. The company cited operating constraints such as the "Abeille Act" on exposure to electromagnetic waves, and the "Alur Act" on co-owned properties, and also said it is increasingly difficult to gain access to 2G sites used for 3G purposes by other operators, "even though such access was provided for in the relevant licences."

The operator further noted that its rapid network rollout "is fully in line with the group's investment strategy, which has made it the operator with the highest level of investment effort (capex to sales ratio) in the French market for a number of years now, with a capex to sales ratio of more than 23 per cent, compared with around 15 per cent for its competitors."

For more:
- see this Iliad release
- see this Arcep release

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