Bouygues takes on Free Mobile via free Wi-Fi

France's Bouygues Telecom is adding free Wi-Fi to its portfolio as it ratchets up its rivalry with low-cost provider Free Mobile.

Via a partnership with Devicescape, Bouygues' mobile customers who have phones using Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android OS will be able to automatically access more than 8 million free Wi-Fi hotspots in Devicescape's virtual network. The service will be activated automatically and transparently whenever a user is within range of one of the hotspots, including those outside of France.

The new service joins Bouygues; forthcoming B-WiFi application, which will be available to all Bouygues Telecom and B&YOU customers with Android smartphones. The application provides smart management of 3G and Wi-Fi networks by automatically connecting the handset to the best available network.

"The very nature of the French market pushes operators to be innovative and pioneering in order to attract and retain their customers. By providing Wi-Fi access for its customers wherever they are, Bouygues Telecom gains a major competitive advantage," said John Lillie, vice president, EMEA, at Devicescape.

Bouygues' foray into free Wi-Fi is a direct challenge to Free Mobile, which operates a 4 million-node offload network using equipment built into home broadband set-top boxes that its parent Iliad installs in customers' homes, said a GigaOM article. However, Bouygues will still be at a disadvantage on its home turf as Devicescape's global crowdsourced virtual Wi-Fi network is not believed to be especially strong in France.

Free Mobile's hotspot network went live in April and has not yet had an impact on Iliad's financial statements, according to GigaOM.

Bouygues counts 10.9 million mobile customers and 1.3 million fixed broadband customers in France. Bouygues as well as rivals, Orange and SFR, have sought to minimize the threat posed by Free Mobile's aggressive pricing by launching their own low-cost offers and revamping their quad-play bundles.

Having captured 4 percent of the French mobile market over the last four months, Iliad's Free Mobile recorded one of the best new-entrant operator results that Europe has seen, according to a recent report from research firm Strategy Analytics. The market research firm says the disruption caused by Free Mobile will drive down service revenues in France by 6 percent this year.

Free Mobile's parent, Iliad, reported that the operator served 2.6 million customers by the end of March.

For more:
- see this Devicescape release
- see this Wireless Backhaul article
- see this GigaOM article

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