French 3G newcomer confident of roaming deal, incumbents less sure

Having already started to build its 3G network, the CFO of Iliad is confident that a 3G roaming agreement will be signed prior to the launch date of 2012 with one of the companies French operator rivals.

Iliad, which will brand its cellular service Free Mobile, said that discussions were already underway with regard to 2G voice and data roaming agreements, and expected to expand these talks to include 3G, given that its new network would initially provide coverage to less than 30 per cent of the French population.

According to the CFO, Thomas Reynaud, its rivals were "in a situation of a prisoner's dilemma, and once one of them moves, the others will want to," adding that the "revenue stream from the roaming agreement would be pure margin for the player that will partner with us."

However, while admitting that no discussions were currently underway on 3G roaming, the chances of Iliad forming a partnership look slim.

Vivendi (the majority owner of SFR) CFO Philippe Capron said last week that operators have "no reason" to partner with Iliad on 3G roaming, since its subscribers' data traffic could overload their own networks.

France Telecom Orange and Bouygues Telecom have indicated their reluctance to negotiate such a 3G roaming deal with Iliad, with Orange confirming only a 2G roaming deal was being discussed.

If a 3G roaming deal proves difficult--and Iliad's Reynaud has said that its rivals should not forget the strong support for such an agreement by the French telecoms regulator--it would start its 3G service regardless. The CFO said that Free Mobile would rely on 2G for data services and consider introducing 3G femtocells to its home broadband routers.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this Total Telecom article

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