SFR chief blames Orange for enabling Free Mobile's low-cost service

French operator SFR has criticised France Telecom (FT) Orange for signing a roaming agreement with Iliad's Free Mobile, allowing Free to launch low-cost services.


The CEO of SFR, Frank Esser, said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde that Free Mobile wouldn't have been able to offer such cheap pricing without the Orange roaming deal, adding, "We have always said that we will never sign such an agreement."

Esser pointed to Free Mobile's "social" package, which costs as little as €2 per month for one hour of calls. "Making offers for €2 does not provide support for a quality network. Transporting voice still has a cost, despite the assertions of Mr. Niel," Esser said, referring to Iliad CEO Xavier Niel.

Recent French newspaper reports have speculated that Free Mobile network is struggling to support the number of customers it has signed up, with coverage in Paris being reported as poor.

Free Mobile is also said to still be in the process of negotiating mobile termination rates (MTR) with other French mobile operators. Iliad, has suggested that asymmetric MTRs be adopted, which SFR's Esser has rejected. "There is no question of accepting the asymmetric MTRs for voice calls and SMS, this would subsidise the Free Mobile offers up to €7," Esser said.

Separately, Bouygues Telecom announced significant price cuts to its quad-play and smartphone subscriptions in response to Free Mobile's offerings. A report carried by Les Echos has suggested that Bouygues Telecom's speed of reaction has been triggered by it losing customers to Free Mobile.

Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom have already lowered the price of their low-cost packages, Sosh, Red and B&You, repsectively, in an effort to retain customers.

Separately, the French regulator Arcep announced late last week that it would inspect Free Mobile's network in an effort to address accusations made by its competitors that the new entrant's infrastructure was not operational. Some reports indicated Free was turning off some its antennas and directing traffic onto Orange's network, which would violate the terms of its licence, since Free must cover 27 percent of the population with its own network in order to maintain the roaming agreement. Free Mobile has denied turning off its equipment.

"Our competitors are trying to make it seem to consumers that there is a problem with our network. There isn't," Free Mobile CEO Maxime Lombardini told Reuters. "When you are faced with false rumours, the best thing to do is get back to the real facts."

For more:
- see this L'Expansion article (translated via Google Translate)
- see this Les Echos article (translated via Google Translate)
- see this Reuters article

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