Fourth mobile phone licence goes to Free

French Internet service provider Free has secured the fourth licence to operate a mobile phone network in France, setting the stage for a showdown with the sector's trio of established players.


France’s telecommunications regulatory body, the Arcep, on Friday awarded Internet service provider Free a licence to operate a mobile phone network in the country. Free, which becomes only the fourth company to obtain the licence in France, will compete with Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom in the lucrative market for mobile phone services.

The licence, which comes with a price tag of 240 million euros, will be effective as of January 2010. Free is expected to start offering its packages by early 2012 at the latest.

Free was the only candidate for the licence, and its selection hardly comes as a surprise. Its new rivals, who have in the past been fined a whopping 534 million euros for price-fixing, have already begun legal action in Paris and Brussels to try and stop the move.

But the Arcep dismissed their claims, saying Free’s arrival would “provide consumers with a broader range of options” while also “stimulating existing operators”.

The regulatory body said Free had pledged to cover at least 90% of the French territory with its third-generation (3G) network by 2018.

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