Iliad's Niel rules out Bouygues Telecom buy, promises surprises ahead

Xavier Niel, the founder of France's Iliad and Free, dashed French consolidation hopes by saying he was not interested in buying domestic rival Bouygues Telecom.

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Iliad founder Xavier Niel

In a wide-ranging interview with French radio station BFM Business, Niel said his company was not a buyer: "The market's consolidation cannot happen without us so there will be no consolidation," he said, Reuters reported.

It has previously been speculated that Iliad might turn its attention back to a possible acquisition in France following the company's failed attempt to buy T-Mobile US.

Rival operator Orange recently reiterated its call for a consolidation of the French mobile market, although the operator has also refused to take the lead here.

For now, it looks like the French market will continue with four mobile players: the new Numericable-SFR, Free Mobile, Bouygues Telecom and Orange.

Niel does have some other plans up his sleeve, however: according to Les Echos Niel is planning a "surprise" for Free's fixed subscribers at the end of February, although without giving further details. Mobile users should also see some new developments between February and August next year after Niel conceded that there had been little movement in the company's mobile services of late.

With regard to Free's mobile network coverage, which is one of the most criticised elements of the company's service due to its reliance on a 2G and 3G national roaming pact with Orange, Niel indicated that Free Mobile's 3G network would cover 75 per cent and its LTE network 50 per cent of France's population by the end of 2014.

Perhaps one of the most surprising elements of Niel's speech was when he described France as a "tax haven", which is not a description you will see often see applied to "l'Hexagone".

Niel, who is on something of a crusade to promote France to the wider world, insisted that it is much easier to create a business in France than in the U.S., for example.

Nevertheless, he also admitted that it is at times necessary to push the boundaries of the laws in France: "You need to hustle with the law. All successful companies like Uber and Airbnb have their brushes with the law. You have to play with these laws to move them along. You can't cross the line but you can tickle it," he said, according to The Local.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Les Echos article (in French)
- see this The Local article

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