Free Mobile rush overwhelms French number portability systems

France's fourth and newest mobile operator, Iliad's Free Mobile, is apparently so popular that demand from consumers to switch services is proving to be too much for the systems that underpin mobile number portability, or MNP.

A report in French newspaper Les Echos said Iliad's Free Mobile is gaining subscribers at a rate of 100,000 to 150,000 a day. According to traffic management calculations by Orange (which provides 70 per cent of Free Mobile's network infrastructure), the mobile operator will have at least 1 million subscribers by the end of January.

Operators in France are legally required to provide MNP within three days, but until January the GIE EGP, France's central information system created to manage MNP, was dealing with 10,000 to 15,000 MNP requests a day, giving some indication of MNP levels previously.

In order to avoid creating total chaos in the system, Free Mobile has voluntarily limited the number of requests for portability to be processed per day to between 35,000 and 40,000 records, Nicolas Houery, operational director of GIE, told Les Echos.

Free Mobile has been aggressively targeting French customers with its offer of €19.99 a month for unlimited texts and calls, 3 GB of data and unlimited Wi-Fi access, and the operator has caused its larger French competitors to cut some of their prices as well.

Overall, the measures taken so far appear to have avoided the onset of complete panic in France's mobile networks. However, there is still the risk that some new Free Mobile clients could be left in limbo: left somewhere between their previous provider and their new provider due to delays in processing the MNP requests.

Meanwhile, the new operator's three rivals Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom received their 800MHz licences from French regulator Arcep on Tuesday: the spectrum awards were formally made in December last year and have raised €2.6 billion for the French government.

So far Free Mobile has missed out on the valuable lower-frequency spectrum--dubbed  the "frequencies of gold" in France --but Les Echos noted the new operator has other options to get its hands on this spectrum treasure: by either leasing 800MHz capacity from SFR, or buying capacity from Orange, perhaps in the secondary market planned by Arcep for the resale of spectrum.

For more:
- see this Les Echos article (translated via Google Translate)
- see this separate Les Echos article (translated via Google Translate)

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