Free Mobile slammed for 'mediocre' 3G performance

The French consumer association UFC has criticised low-cost operator Free Mobile's 3G service for being mediocre. The UFC claims it has been continuously receiving complaints from consumers about the service since April 2012, according to Les Echos.

Xavier Niel

UFC Pesident Alain Bazot said that consumers have reported problems with Free Mobile's own 3G network and when roaming onto the 3G network provided by France Telecom's Orange.

The UFC conducted nearly 2,500 tests of Free Mobile's 3G network in Ile-de-France, Lille and Toulouse, and experienced poor performance when downloading videos in 70 per cent of cases.

"The gap between the service promised and what was provided by Free Mobile amazed us," Bazot told Les Echos, adding that it was "catastrophic for consumers."

While Bazot admitted to being a supporter for a fourth mobile licence in France, and accepts that the "low cost has its place on the market," he said that this "should not be at the expense of quality for consumers."

Free Mobile, which is owned by Iliad, has rejected the accusations, claiming that the UFC study was flawed. The operator points to the tests being conducted in November and December of last year, and thus they take no consideration of network improvement made from early January which provides for better in-building coverage.

The operator suggested that the UFC complaint was little more than a publicity stunt, telling La Tribune that the association should have waited until Free Mobile made its 900 MHz band available. The company retaliated by calling the UFC study "partial, biased, opaque and dated."

The UFC has filed a formal complaint against Free Mobile with the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris claiming the operator is engaged in "deceptive trade practices," according the La Tribune.

Separately, Iliad founder Xavier Niel told Le Figaro that Free Mobile is unlikely participate in any consolidation of the French mobile market but that network sharing could be a way to boost operator's earnings.  A possible merger of Vivendi's SFR and Iliad's Free Mobile was reportedly been quashed by the French competition authority, claiming that the market share of the combined company would be too large. Vivendi and Iliad approached the competition authorities with a merger proposal, according to a recent report from the French radio station BFM.

Niel said that Free Mobile had signed up around five million users by mid-January, compared to 4.4 million at the end of September.

For more:
- see this Les Echos article (translated via Google Translate)
- see this La Tribune article (translated via Google Translate)
- see this Le Figaro article (translated via Google Translate)
- see this Telegeography article
- see this Reuters article

Related Articles:
Report: SFR, Free Mobile merger plan blocked by regulator
Orange, SFR hit with €183M fine for anticompetitive practices
Bouygues Telecom sues Free Mobile over smears and 'unfair competition'
Free Mobile ups ante in French mobile price war
Vivendi: Changes in French political environment will curb Free Mobile