Virgin Mobile joins France's LTE bun fight

Virgin Mobile has become the latest operator to launch LTE services in France, dubbing itself the first "full MVNO" to offer LTE in the market.

The company, which has signed an agreement with both SFR and Bouygues Telecom to utilise their LTE masts across France, has made a range of offers available that come with or without a contract and with or without a smartphone. It also claims as a first a no-contract LTE plan that comes with a subsidised smartphone.

Although Virgin Mobile does not offer the 20 GB that is available under the Free Mobile LTE plan for €19.99 ($27.62), its offers are comparable with the SFR Red plans as well as Orange's low-cost Sosh plans and Bouygues Telecom's B&YOU tariffs: Virgin's €19.99 IDOL plan comes with 3 GB of data, while the €24.99 IDOL plan includes 5 GB of data as well as 1 GB for use in Europe.

"The agreements with our two partners SFR and Bouygues Telecom enable us…to contribute towards the democratisation of 4G thanks to these competitive and modular offers," said Virgin Mobile France CEO Pascal Rialland.

Virgin Mobile also makes use of Orange France and SFR masts for its 3G services. The company established itself as a "full" MVNO in order to gain greater commercial independence, as this type of MVNO typically deploys its own network elements and is more than just a branding partnership with SIM cards.

Omea Telecom, a joint venture of the Virgin Group and Carphone Warehouse, is behind the commercialisation of Virgin Mobile France and has a customer base of around 2 million subscribers. In late March, reports in the French and UK press said Carphone Warehouse was looking to divest its stake in Omea Telecom, causing Virgin Group to consider its own investment in the company. A sale to SFR, as well as an IPO, has been considered, the reports said. Since those reports surfaced, Vivendi has agreed to sell SFR to Altice and Numericable.

It was not possible to reach either Virgin Mobile France or Carphone Warehouse before publication because of the Easter Monday holiday.

In separate reports, SFR CEO Jean-Yves Charlier told Le Figaro newspaper that the company plans to form a broad network-sharing partnership with Vodafone that would extend "everywhere in the world", Reuters reported.

Charlier also said that the project to share a network with Bouygues Telecom would not be threatened by the planned merger with cable operator Numericable.

For more:
- see this Virgin Mobile France release (in French)
- see this Reuters article

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