Free – First Contact

Last week I was in France for the first time this year, at the lovely but icy cold Côte d'Azur. To my surprise, the new network operator "Free" who has just recently launched their own network in France was already there, even in snowy Sophia-Antipolis. 208 15 is their Mobile Country Code / Mobile Network code shown on older devices that were built before they registered their name in the SE.13 network name database. I couldn't roam into their network yet, but that is not very surprising given that they just launched less than a month ago.

And it seems their launch has brought quite some movement into the sleepy French mobile network landscape. With only three networks present, competition was relaxed and resulted in high prices. Free changed all that and for 20 euros a month, users can get an all you can eat unlimited calls and texts + 3GB of mobile data a month, finally bringing the country en par with prices in many other European countries.

The French are quite interested and there are reports that in the first month, Free has likely gathered over one million subscribers and mobile number portings are well beyond 40.000 a day, the maximum capacity the system was designed for. I'm a Bouygues customer and last week I received an interesting eMail from them informing me that, oh by the way, Free is not so special as everybody thinks, as Bouygues also has a 20 euro a month all you can eat plan, available on their website. And, it was stressed, it had that long before Free launched. Interesting, it must have been very well hidden on their website, I never saw it. But o.k. the eMail alone is quite telling.

In other countries, regulators are not faced with competition springing up but rather with networks trying to merge. Regulators have rejected such approaches recently in Switzerland and just lately in Greece. Rumors or deals in other countries, however, continue to spring up. Let's hope regulators take the time to have a closer look at countries such as France to see what the difference is between a three and a four network operator landscape. From a consumer point of view, the choice is simple and pretty much irreversible. If two network operators are allowed to merge, infrastructure goes away and is unlikely to be built again by another contender anytime soon.