Virgin Mobile taunts market with French 3G licence bid

Maybe we will, maybe we won't, is the message coming from Virgin Mobile France as to whether it will enter the bidding for the fourth French 3G mobile phone licence. The company said it was still in negotiations with various potential partners about making a bid, but admitted the suggested price for the licence of €240 million "seemed fair and relevant."

Interestingly, the company's secretary general, Philippe Maugest, seemed to drop a heavy hint that network sharing was key to any decision about making an offer for the 3G licence. "A new entrant must have the opportunity to deploy a new mobile network under economically viable terms," was how Maugest described the matter.

Given that the French regulator ARCEP is expected to award the licence in January 2010, the interested bidders must decide on any partnership within the next few months.

Virgin Mobile confirmed it is in talks with the cable operator Numericable--which already operates as an MVNO in France--and competes with Iliad in the provision of broadband, television, and fixed-line phone services. Iliad is the only firm to have officially lodged an interest in bidding for the 3G licence.

Numericable failed to clarify the situation by confirming it was considering several bidding options for the 3G licence, and that an alliance with Virgin Mobile was one possibility under review.

The existing 3G operators--Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom--who paid €619 million in 2001 and 2002 for their 3G frequencies, have made plain their objections to the much reduced price for this fourth licence, and are keen to delay or halt the arrival of a fourth player.

For more on this story:
Reuters and WSJ

Related stories:
Virgin Mobile eyes French 3G licence
French regulator to push for 3G network sharing
French to consult (again) on 3G licence
Iliad's campaign for French 3G licence heats up

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