ARCEP publishes a complete report on mobile coverage and service quality

Paris, 30 November 2012

Not only consumers and businesses, but also elected officials, market analysts and the media all pay very close attention to the various issues surrounding mobile services.

In France, the arrival of a fourth mobile operator in early 2012, along with allocation of frequencies to ultra high-speed (4G) mobile services - whose first rollouts are already underway - have rekindled different questions and discussions, particularly those relating to coverage and the quality of mobile services.

In light of these circumstances, ARCEP felt it would be useful to produce, for the first time, a complete report on matters that had been treated separately up until now.

It is this report on mobile coverage and service quality that ARCEP is publishing today.

Particular emphasis on definitions and the methodologies employed to measure coverage and quality of service.

In the first part of the report, special attention has been given to providing readers with a complete and informative view of the definitions and methods employed to measure mobile coverage and quality of service.

These two notions are explained by detailing how they make it possible to ascertain, in a complementary fashion, mobile network availability and performance levels. The various methods and tools used for each of these two notions are explained, along with an analysis of their limitations, and readers are given a precise description of the existing regulatory framework in France.

A complete status report on coverage and quality of service for all four mobile operators (Orange France, SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free mobile) is provided, along with an analysis of the changes and developments observed over the past several years.

The second part of the report furnishes a status report on mobile coverage in France as of 1 July 2012, based on the maps supplied by the four mobile network operators, and which ARCEP verified in the field over the course of the summer. The report is completed by a department-by-department mobile coverage atlas of Metropolitan France, with zoomable maps available on the ARCEP website.

As of 1 July 2012, the country's three 2G operators (Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom) were each covering close to 99% of the population. Under ARCEP's regulatory definition, the term "coverage" refers to the ability to make and maintain a phone call for one minute, outdoors and while walking. As concerns 3G, Orange France and SFR both cover more than 98% of the population, Bouygues Telecom close to 95% and Free Mobile 37% of the population.

The third part of the report details and analyses the results of the annual quality of service survey that ARCEP performed of all four mobile operators, from September to November 2012, and compares them with the results of the surveys from previous years. This comparison reveals that, on the whole, quality of service is high in France, particularly when compared with similar countries, and is tending to come in line with the quality of fixed broadband services.

Meanwhile the quality of calling and other services such as SMS (texting) also remains high. There has nevertheless been a relative decline for certain indicators, which has been an ongoing trend for several years now. Although this decline can be attributed to certain temporary elements, it is also no doubt due to the tremendous increase in traffic, the widespread adoption of high-volume plans and the fact that, more and more, consumers are using their mobiles rather than their landline phones to make calls to fixed numbers. As a result, operators need to continue to invest to ensure that the quality of calling services remains high, and to prevent any risks of it deteriorating. Configurations where a sizeable drop in quality was observed this year, most notably calls made on high-speed trains (TGV), will come under especially close scrutiny by ARCEP during future surveys.

Connection speeds observed on mobile networks have increased dramatically: depending on the operator, median speeds range from 3.3 to 7.1 Mbit/s downstream (i.e. from the network to the user), with peak rates running as high as 25 Mbit/s, provided the user has a compatible device. This very positive development (median speeds have increased by 50% to 175% compared to 2011, depending on the operator) can be attributed above all to the investments that operators have made in their systems. These investments need to be maintained so that connection speeds can continue to increase despite the huge increase in traffic on mobile networks.

A detailed summary of this 2012 edition, which is being published simultaneously, comes to complete those produced in previous years, and so providing readers with a history of the quality of mobile services in France over several years.

Proposals for improving the information made available to consumers and public authorities submitted to public consultation

To respond to the legitimate requests being made by various types of stakeholder, and particularly local and national elected officials, the final section of the report contains suggestions for improvements that will be particularly useful at a time when data traffic is exploding, alongside (voice) calling traffic.

These proposals are not intended to - and cannot, in fact - call into question operators' existing obligations, which were set in the terms attached to their licences, but rather to complete and improve the information provided to consumers and public authorities. Some of these proposals could nonetheless be taken into consideration when issuing future licences.

These suggestions have been broken down into five headings: the reliability of coverage maps for 2G and 3G mobile (calling) services, the definition of a common measurement for mobile internet access coverage, indoor and in-car service availability, quality of service surveys and access to information on coverage and quality of service.

These proposals are being submitted to consultation: all interested parties are invited to submit their comments by 1 February 2013.