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French regulator to look into Free's cheap phone service

updated 05:20 pm EST, Fri January 27, 2012

Free claims competitors hitting below the belt

ARCEP, the French telecom regulator, has said it is going to inspect low-cost wireless provider Iliad's backbone network to make sure it is compliant with its bandwidth licensing requirements. The action takes place after Iliad's competitors raised complaints about Iliad's network performance and customer service. Iliad, which operates its wireless service under the Free name brand, denied the claims, discounting them as false rumors.

Iliad stirred up the French wireless market earlier this month when its Free launched a service with unlimited calls to France the US, and most of Europe for 20 euros ($26) per month. The plan also included unlimited texts and three gigabytes of mobile data. Free also announced that starting today, it would begin offering the iPhone 4S under the plan. This has touched off a price war, and Free's main competitors, Orange, SFR, and Bouygues Telecom, have dropped prices to compete. They also unleashed a barrage of claims against the discount carrier, including one that Free, inundated with customer traffic, had turned off its own overloaded mobile antennas and had instead offloaded the traffic to France Telecom's network, with which Iliad had a roaming agreement.

ARCEP has issued a statement indicating that it hasn't received any formal complaints. It also hasn't received any concrete evidence backing the allegations. Despite this, the agency, "for the sake of transparency and peace of mind," has asked Iliad to provide documentation regarding the status of the network. This would include a list of installed and active towers, as well as any that had been shut off and an explanation why that action was taken.

Maxime Lombardini, Free's Chief Executive, has denied that it turned off any part of the network and welcomes an investigation. "Our competitors are trying to make it seem to consumers that there is a problem with our network," said Lombardini. "There isn't. When you are faced with false rumors, the best thing to do is get back to the real facts." [via Reuters]

by MacNN Staff



  1. Awax

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Same happened 10 years ago

    The same thing happened 10 years ago when FREE opened its Triple play uncapped ADSL for only 30€. At the same time, ADSL for data only and capped at 1Mbps/512kbps was sold around 45€. FREE added unlimited landline phone calls and television, started at 2/1Mbps and then removed any speed limitation. A service that could amount to 90€ at competitors.
    The existing competitors (the exact same as today for mobile phone) used the exact same tactics : network was supposed to be unreliable, there was no phone support, etc ...
    Now FREE has the best ADSL box in the world (sporting an Intel Atom and a BluRay player) and a loyal customer base.

    Right now, the incumbents are using shady technics to discredit the new comer. Les Echos - a respected french financial journal - publish a picture of a shabby looking installation, claiming it was one of FREE deployed station. It fueled the rumor that FREE network was subpar and unable to cope the demand, relying on its roaming agreement to provide service to its customer while saving on the network deployment. It turned out that the picture was indeed a FREE equipment ... but deployed inside a competitor test lab to validate roaming configuration. Identically, most of the issue link to the start of the new service aren't directly linked to FREE either : number portability is handled by a joint venture of all operators. It is used to handle 10-15k demand per day and expected a boost to 20-25k. Portability is supposed to be effective in 3 days. Currently, they are maxed out at 40-50k demands per days and expect to go up to 80k to cope with the demand.

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