Report: Free Mobile wants to join network-sharing talks of two rivals

Free Mobile, the Iliad-owned enfant terrible of the French mobile market, has reportedly indicated that it would like to join the network-sharing negotiations currently being carried out by rival operators SFR and Bouygues Telecom.

According to a report by French newspaper Les Echos, Iliad CEO Maxime Lombardini sent a letter to the two rivals and forwarded copies to the French telecoms and competition regulators. In the letter, Lombardini expressed concerns that Iliad's Free Mobile unit would be put in a weaker position if SFR and Bouygues Telecom joined forces and left it on its own to fight against Orange France.

"A deal between two of the three operators of incumbent mobile networks that doesn't leave room for the fourth operator could be a major destabilising factor," wrote Lombardini, according to Les Echos. "In addition, such an agreement could be legally questionable."

Les Echos likened the move by Iliad to a dog turning up to a game of 10-pin bowling. Indeed, some may consider its audacity fairly breathtaking, given the impact the operator has had on the market. If you have been following the French mobile market developments, you will recollect that Free Mobile sparked a price war in January 2012 that is still having repercussions on the market to this day and allowed Free Mobile to rapidly secure 10 per cent of the market.

Sources told Reuters that Iliad's move was partly to show Orange, which is currently Free Mobile's network partner as it builds out its own network, that it could have other options. Orange CEO Stephane Richard recently indicated he was not interested in network sharing with Iliad and was only interested in discussing their roaming relationship.

Bouygues Telecom and SFR entered into exclusive talks in July and said at the time that they hoped to conclude the talks by the end of the year, although agreement is now expected to be finalised early next year, Reuters noted. Any agreement on network sharing will be subject to approval by the country's antitrust authority and French regulator Arcep.

In March this year, the antitrust authority gave its approval to network-sharing deals between French operators on a limited basis.

For more:
- see this Les Echos article
- see this Reuters article

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