Iliad's Free continues unstoppable growth in France's mobile market

Iliad reported strong revenue and subscriber growth in 2015, as the enfant terrible of France's mobile market continued to be a thorn in the side of rivals with apparently unstoppable growth.

The company, which sells fixed and mobile services under the Free brand, said revenue hit a new record of €4.4 billion ($4.87 billion) last year, which was ahead of initial targets and up 5.9 per cent from a year ago. EBITDA also grew strongly by 16 per cent to €1.5 billion and profits were up by 20 per cent at €335 million.

Free Mobile alone reported a 20 per cent increase in service revenue, and 1.6 million new net adds. By the end of the year, the total number of mobile subscriptions reached 11.7 million to give Free Mobile a market share of 17 per cent. The number of 4G customers also reached 3.7 million by the end of 2015.

Iliad said its continuing growth was helped by the introduction of a plan with 50 GB of 4G data for €19.99 a month, among other incentives for existing users of the fixed Freebox service.

Speaking to the media this week, CFO Thomas Reynaud said Iliad has been the number one recruiter of new mobile customers in France for the 16th quarter in a row, Reuters reported.

Iliad continues to place a strong focus on its 3G and 4G network rollout. With regard to 2G/3G, the company still relies on a national roaming agreement with Orange but should be in a position to terminate this arrangement gradually from 2018. The company said it opened more than 1,600 3G sites last year.

With 4G, the company is building its own network without roaming help and said 4G population coverage stood at 63 per cent by the end of 2015, with more than 3,500 4G sites opened last year. The company has also gained new spectrum assets with an additional 15 MHz in the 1800 MHz band and 10 MHz in the 700 MHz band.

Iliad's network rollout could also benefit from the plan by Orange to buy Bouygues Telecom, as any deal would require Bouygues' assets to be divided up and parts of it sold to Iliad and SFR. Talks are still ongoing, and Reynard highlighted that the discussions "are complex on operational and industrial aspects", according to Reuters.

Looking ahead to 2016, Iliad said it plans to deploy more than 1,500 sites this year and achieve 4G population coverage of close to 75 per cent by the end of the year. It also maintains its long-term goals of achieving a 25 per cent share of the mobile market and a 40 per cent EBITDA margin by the end of the decade.

For more:
- see the Iliad results
- see this Reuters article

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