SFR launches LTE in Paris as Bouygues Telecom unveils prices

The French rollout of LTE continued to progress this week as French operators SFR and Bouygues Telecom revealed their latest developments in the race to cover the market with high-speed mobile services.

Vivendi-owned SFR announced that it has launched LTE services in Paris, and said this marks its seventh LTE "agglomeration" of market launches in the country since the operator first launched consumer LTE services at the end of 2012.

The operator claims to have the broadest coverage of LTE services in the French capital to date, and said it will cover the whole of Paris by the end of the year, as well as 300 municipalities in the Ile-de-France region. Orange France already provides LTE in selected Paris locations. Interestingly, SFR is also targeting the home broadband market with its Paris LTE announcement, saying that the LTE service is superior to ADSL.

SFR said it plans to cover 55 agglomerations with LTE services by the end of the year, by which point it will cover around 70 per cent of the population with both LTE and dual-carrier HSPA services. SFR, Orange France and Bouygues Telecom are all rolling out HSPA+ services to accompany their LTE deployments, in order to be able to offer theoretical peak download speeds of at least 42 Mbps to as much of the population as possible.

Orange France said it now offers LTE services in 44 agglomerations including 157 towns, while its "H+" network is available to 67 per cent of the population.

Bouygues Telecom has yet to launch its LTE services but is scheduled to do so on Oct. 1 using refarmed 1800 MHz spectrum. The company unveiled its LTE pricing on Wednesday, saying it will offer "Forfait Sensation" 4G tariffs with a choice of 3 GB or 8 GB of data.

Meanwhile Bouygues Group, which includes both the telecoms unit and construction and property businesses, published its half-year results on Wednesday and said that Bouygues Telecom had shown resilience in a highly competitive market. The operator was able to stabilise its customer base at 11.286 million subscribers by the end of June, largely thanks to its low-cost B&YOU unit, which gained 523,000 new customers during the period to reach 1.6 million in total.

Bouygues noted that the "far-reaching transformation" of the telecoms unit that had been under way since early 2012, when the French market was thrown into upheaval by the launch of a low-cost price plan from Iliad's Free Mobile, has been stepped up in 2013.

"With a change in the way plans are marketed and a reduction in operating costs, overall costs in the mobile business in the first half of 2013 were €282 million ($376 million) lower than in the first half of 2011," the company said in a statement. "Total savings of €339 million have been made on mobile costs since the end of 2011. The transformation plan target of €400 million will therefore be exceeded."

Bouygues added that the launch of LTE on Oct. 1 offers the company "a very good opportunity to retake the leadership in terms of innovation on the mobile market."

Bouygues Telecom reported total sales of €2.29 billion in the first half of 2013, down 15 per cent on the first half of 2012. It said the greater-than-expected fall in sales was due to a moderate commercial performance and the growing share of SIM-only sales. However, EBITDA fell by "only €6 million" to €257 million in the second quarter compared to 2012, which Bouygues attributed to the effectiveness of the savings plan and a reduction in marketing costs.

Bouygues Telecom has now revised its sales target for 2013 downwards from the previously announced €4.85 billion to €4.6 billion.

For more:
- see this Bouygues results release
- see this Bouygues Telecom release (translated via Google Translate)
- see this SFR release
- see this ZDNet article
- see this Reuters article
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this FT article (sub. req.)

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