"I'll deal with you later!" French minister threatens Iliad with regulatory spanking

Dec 23, 2013

The French government tried and failed to have penalties imposed on Free, Iliad’s mobile offering in France, after it announced that it would introduce LTE to its customers at no extra charge. That move infuriated Free’s competitors who were banking on LTE (literally) as a means to hike pricing for mobile broadband.

But that was just the last straw, Iliad has now committed a whole string of crimes - offering cheap service bundles, free upgrades and low-cost lease/buy options for smartphones - disrupting the cosy French market, in other words.

Now the French government in the form of the digital information minister, Fleur Pellerin, says it is going to wade in and ensure that the French regulator has the the power - "give him his stick back" - to enforce quality standards (since presumably the French public can’t be trusted to choose the ‘right' quality of network service unaided).

This is a fitting story to end the year on as we believe it exposes the 4G farce for what it is and we hope the argument promised in France will kick-start the year with a bang!

Just to recap, the term 4G is mostly marketing hype designed to push users up to a new pricing tier.

Stripped of the hype, 4G is LTE (long term evolution). It’s not a new generation, it is a mobile broadband speed and capacity ramp for 3G. As such it will often be introduced incrementally (not in one big push). Telcos will use a mix of all the the digital standards to optimise the services available to users and increase ‘average’ performance. So in fact the Iliad Free approach to the ramp (and the approach of 3 in the UK) is the correct one.

All the LTE being introduced into Europe at the moment will be data only if and until telcos enable the VoLTE (voice over LTE) VOIP standard for it. As this involves all sorts of expense and the introduction of IMS in its standard form, it’s even doubtful that they ever will. Why? Because they can simply get the multi-mode phones to fall back to the switched mobile network to handle telephone calls. As straight voice is not growing as a service category, this could remain the sensible, cost-effective course for the immediate future.

Bottom line, LTE is a particular evolution of 3G, not a replacement for it. As it is introduced by most operators, users’ phones will use it where it’s available and use HSPA (and the faster, near LTE-speed HSPA+) on the original 3G frequencies where it’s not (or even, as I find on ocassions, fall right back to 2G data when presumably 3G is congested or unavailable).

It’s more sensible to think of LTE as something operators, not users, get to play with and they use it to provide more capacity (support more users using more data). If managed by the operator to do so, it should improve users’ average subjective performance, especially for streaming and downloading. It won’t, however, make much difference on many applications (phone calls, texts, messaging, updating Facebook). As UK operator 3 pointed out when announcing its plans for rolling out LTE, it was in no hurry because it didn’t expect it would make a hugely measurable improvement over its version of HSPA.

So in fact the approach to LTE exhibited by both Free in France and 3 in the UK, is actually the most sensible and sustainable. The new network technology doesn’t by itself offer anything except the sort of ramp-up in speed and average performance that the network SHOULD be offering as Moore’s Law does its work.

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