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Free takes the French market into ‘unlimited’ data

xavier niel

Iliad's Xavier Niel via Flickr © rsepulveda (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • France's Free offers unlimited LTE data
  • Claims a French first and the cheapest unlimited offer ever
  • Parent Iliad now eyeing up Italy

It’s been a remarkable, if amazingly fast, journey. France’s Free Mobile only began life in 2012. But in the space of 5-6 short years, clutching a mobile operator’s licence complete with licensed spectrum in one hand and an MVNO agreement with the dominant operator, Orange, in the other, it has cut a disruptive swathe through what was once the comfortable old French mobile market.

Peak disruption was reached today as Free announced that it was moving to an unlimited tariff for its LTE mobile service -  the first unlimited offer in the French market. The existence of ‘Unlimited’ offers is now an accepted marker for a properly competitive, forward-looking mobile broadband market and has long been a feature of the more advanced environments - Finland the notable example.

Free is offering not quite unlimited 4G (there’s a 100GB fair use limit) to users of the Free Mobile Plan and  ‘Freebox’ broadband bundle, at €15.99 per month for unlimited calls, texts and MMS in Metropolitan France. Free claims that “this is the first time worldwide that an operator has offered unlimited 4G mobile Internet at such an attractive price.”

The original idea was that Free would build out its own network and piggyback off Orange while construction was under way, steadily reducing its reliance on the incumbent so that the Free network would eventually cover 90 per cent of the French population by January 2018. There’s a year to go and it’s now at 80 per cent

Over those years Free Mobile and its parent Iliad have completely traumatised and reshaped the French mobile market, with cut-throat pricing and innovative bundling with Iliad’s broadband capabilities. It offered packages with broadband internet, television and fixed-line telephony, triggering a nasty price war in the French mobile sector which the participants were only just getting over now. .

As a result Free and Iliad, the parent  have gone from strength to strength.  Iliad has just  reported its biggest annual profit yet. Now the group,  controlled by billionaire Xavier Niel,  claims it will not only step up its investments in France in 2017 and 2018 but will  launch in Italy by early next year.

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