French mobile operators signal end to national roaming agreements

France's four mobile operators submitted amendments to existing national roaming agreements by the Jun. 15 deadline set by regulator Arcep, indicating that they intend to phase out such agreements by either end-2018 or 2020.

The actions taken by the operators are in response to a request by the French regulator to make specific plans for terminating network-sharing and national roaming agreements. The amended agreements must also conform to guidelines issued by Arcep on May 25.

Orange and Iliad-owned Free Mobile said their national roaming agreement for 2G and 3G services would finally come to an end in 2020 following a progressive limitation in the services used by Free from January 2017.

Bouygues Telecom also said it had agreed with SFR that the Altice-owned operator would stop roaming on its 4G network by the end of 2018, by which point Bouygues said it expects to cover between 98 per cent and 99 per cent of the population with its 4G network.

At the same time, Bouygues Telecom also complained that the roaming agreement between Free and Orange had in fact been extended from 2018 to 2020, "which does not restore equity in the conditions of competition."

Arcep said in January that the deal for Free Mobile to use Orange's 3G network should terminate between end-2018 and end-2020 and the contract for Orange's 2G network could end between end-2020 and end-2022.

The agreement with Orange was designed to allow Iliad to launch Free as a new mobile entrant in 2012, although Free was obliged to meet certain coverage requirements regarding the construction of its own mobile network.

Now, Free has not only enjoyed significant success on France's mobile market but it has also reached its 3G coverage targets and is building a 4G network. The company said its 3G network now reaches 84.5 per cent of the population while 4G covers 68.3 per cent.

SFR and Bouygues Telecom operate a network-sharing arrangement for 2G, 3G and 4G as well as the national 4G roaming deal. In January, Arcep said it wanted to see "a specific end date" to the 4G portion of the deal "because investments in 4G infrastructure are crucial to the market's vitality."

Bouygues Telecom and SFR, which were also due to submit amendments to their network-sharing agreement to Arcep by Jun. 15, told the regulator that they would be completing the submission in the coming days.

Arcep said it would examine the revised documents from all four operators, "notably in relation to its guidelines".

The regulator will then decide whether or not changes still need to be brought to existing agreements, "through the application of the newfound powers assigned to it by parliament."

For more:
- see this Arcep release
- see the Orange statement
- see the Free Mobile statement
- see the Bouygues Telecom statement (in French)

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