Vivendi's SFR has become the first operator in France to launch commercial LTE service aimed at consumers, establishing a lead over rivals France Telecom Orange and Bouygues Telecom, which are not expected to introduce consumer LTE service until early 2013.
SFR lit up its LTE network in Lyon and will add Montpellier this month with Lille, Marseille, Strasbourg and Toulouse going live in the first half of 2013, according to Reuters.
"There is an advantage to being first to launch LTE to the broad public to show that this new, better technology is not reserved for the happy few," SFR CEO Stephane Roussel told Reuters. Orange has started offering LTE service to corporate customers.
However, SFR, which is hoping that the new service will reduce churn and even attract new subscribers, admits that launching a service in Paris is unlikely to happen until next autumn due to planning difficulties with installing mobile antennas in the French capital.
Adoption of SFR's LTE service could be hampered by the small portfolio of LTE smartphones capable of working in France. The company will initially offer the Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One and the Motorola Razr, with Nokia's Lumia 920 being added shortly. Tariffs will start at €49.99 a month for 2 GB of mobile data.
Of note, the company had been expected to launch LTE early next year, but decided to bring forward the date. "We believe there is an appetite for these services," an SFR executive told Les Echos, "It's a real gamble."
The company has been conducting trials of LTE with nearly 400 consumers in Lyon sinceJ uly, but expects rapid uptake now the service is commercially available.
"SFR will sell tens of thousands of LTE smartphones this year, and hundreds of thousands next year," Alexandre Wauquiez, marketing director SFR, told Les Echos.
Separately, Roussel quashed speculation that Vivendi is considering selling off its French mobile unit. In an interview on French radio, the executive dismissed the idea that SFR might be sold off as part of Vivendi's strategic review of its telecom assets, according to Dow Jones Newswire. "It's not because there is a review of certain other parts of Vivendi that SFR is targeted," he said.
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