ARCEP verifies operators' compliance with coverage obligations.

Paris, 28 February 2012

In January and February, ARCEP carried out checks on the 3G coverage achieved by France's four 3G mobile operators: Free Mobile, Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom

Regarding Free Mobile

Under the terms of the licence it was awarded, Free Mobile was obligated to cover 27% of the population of Metropolitan France with its 3G network within two years of having obtained its licence, in other words by 12 January 2012. This coverage corresponds solely to its own network, and so excludes the additional coverage provided by roaming agreements.

On 10 November 2011, Free Mobile informed ARCEP that it had achieved its 3G coverage obligations. The Authority then made a careful verification of the information submitted by Free Mobile, which included carrying out field measurements and calculating the percentage of the population that was actually covered using a database of the French population geolocated at the building level.

As stated in the ARCEP press release of 13 December 2011, the verifications performed by the Authority ascertained that Free Mobile has indeed achieved the level of 3G deployment that it was required to achieve by 12 January 2012.

On 10 January 2012, Free Mobile launched its mobile service commercially. The service is available throughout Metropolitan France - in part through the 3G network that Free Mobile has itself deployed thus far, and in part thanks to a roaming solution that Free Mobile has purchased from Orange, by virtue of a private contract signed on 3 March 2011.

In the days and weeks following this rollout, several articles in the press stated that Free Mobile may have switched off some of its towers. In a letter dated 26 January, the CFE-CFG and UNSA telecom operator trade union federations requested that ARCEP carry out an investigation into Free Mobile's compliance with its 3G network rollout obligations, in accordance with the terms of its licence.

As indicated in a press release on 27 January, for the sake of transparency and peace of mind ARCEP decided it would be useful, very exceptionally, to repeat these verifications of the Free Mobile network, alongside the ones that were due to be performed in January and February, using the same method, on Orange France, SFR and Bouygues Telecom networks.

It emerged from this new round of verifications that, as of 31 January 2012, Free Mobile is still meeting its regulatory obligations, with a rate of coverage of more than 28% of the population thanks to the use of 735 operational towers. It was also ascertained that the network's deployment is ongoing, as confirmed by the number of requests for tower installations filed with the National Frequency Agency, ANFr, and the number of towers reported as being in service with this agency.

As stipulated in the terms of its licence, Free Mobile is now required to be providing 75% of the population with 3G coverage by January 2015 and 90% by January 2018.

ARCEP is also keen to reiterate that the fact of meeting rollout obligations needs to be clearly distinguished from the issue of quality of service - which constitutes an element of differentiation between operators, and for which ARCEP publishes an annual scorecard. It should also be distinguished from the issue of what percentage of customers' traffic is being routed thanks to the roaming solution that Free Mobile has contracted from its partner carrier, Orange France, whose technical and financial terms are governed exclusively by contractual relations between these two undertakings.

In accordance with the terms of the licence issued to Free Mobile, ARCEP will verify that the operator is complying with all of its obligations and commitments in late June 2012.

Regarding Orange France and SFR

The verifications performed on the Orange France and SFR networks, using the same method as the one used for Free Mobile, revealed that each of these two operators is covering more than 98% of the population with 3G services, which corresponds to the target set for 31 December 2011.

This target was set as part of a notice to comply that the Director-General of ARCEP sent to these two operators on 30 November 2009, after they had failed to meet the rollout targets for 21 August 2009 that were set by the terms of their licences. At the time, Orange France was covering 84% of the population instead of the 98% to which it had committed, and SFR 74% instead of 99.3%.

As stated in the Director-General's notice to comply, SFR must therefore make up for lost time by achieving 99.3% coverage of the population by the end of 2013.

Regarding Bouygues Telecom

Outside the realm of any obligation, and with the agreement of Bouygues Telecom, ARCEP also verified this operator's 3G network coverage. The Authority was able to ascertain that Bouygues Telecom has continued to invest in its 3G network rollouts, and that it is now covering more than 93% of the population, which is well above the obligation set for the end of 2010, namely to cover 75% of the population.

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