Orange comes on top while Free lags behind in French regulator's network review

Orange has topped the French telecoms regulator's review of network quality in an annual evaluation of mobile operator services, while enfant terrible Free Mobile lagged behind in fourth place.

The largest operator in France, Orange achieved the best results for telephone services and for most data services in the review by Arcep. It also had the highest throughput out of the four mobile operators in the country.

While Orange showed above-average performance on 213 indicators out of a total of 258 different indicators that were evaluated in the survey, Bouygues Telecom took second place with 75, with SFR coming in much lower at 38. Finally Iliad's Free Mobile, whose 3G network is still being deployed, fell substantially behind on a large number of indicators, outperforming on just two indicators.

Overall, Arcep noted that the speed of 3G services from the four operators has increased by around 30 per cent since last year. However, there was a significant disparity between the median download speeds between operators, with Orange at 9.3 Mbps compared to Free Mobile and SFR at 4 Mbps.

As well as 2G and 3G, LTE metrics were taken for the first time, although on a trial basis and in a small area. The LTE or 4G findings showed that throughput on the new networks is far higher than on 2G and 3G networks; the median download speed on 4G is 17.9 Mbps, versus 7.2 Mbps with 2G and 3G. Also, upload speeds increase from 1.5 Mbps to 5.5 Mbps on 4G.

Service quality on 4G is also significantly varied, with the best network providing median throughout that is six times greater than the worst. Next year 4G measurements will be carried out in detail, with comparisons between the operators.

ARCEP took over 90,000 measurements in the field during the extensive survey. The measurements encompass an array of situations, from indoor usage to trains, cities, and in rural areas.  

Meanwhile Bouygues will now be able to concentrate on improving the results for its telecoms unit in 2015 following the sale of the majority of its holding in engineering firm, Alstom, to the French state last weekend. The deal provides Bouygues Group with cash to help balance its troubled bank books, enabling it to focus on its telecoms business.

The future is also changing for SFR, which is being bought by Altice from Vivendi and will ultimately be merged with French cable company Numericable. Altice has also just sold €911 million ($1.24 billion) of new stock to help fund its equity increase in Numericable as part of the planned merger with SFR. Altogether, €529 million in cash will be paid to Carlyle and Cinven for their 14 per cent stake in Numericable.

For more:
- see this Reuters article on Bouygues
- see this Bloomberg story on Altice
- see this Arcep release

Related articles:
Altice, Vivendi sign final agreement on SFR-Numericable merger
France rolls up its sleeves to avert planned Bouygues job cuts
Bouygues Telecom considers cutting 2,000 jobs as future hangs in balance
Orange, Alcatel-Lucent CEOs reiterate pleas for French consolidation
Free Mobile faces probe over 3G network coverage

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