Paris, 7 March 2012
ARCEP would like to offer a reminder of the three main questions that are asked of all mobile networks:
- Does the network comply with the coverage obligations listed in the licence issued to its operator?
- How is the operator's network used?
- What quality of service are users receiving?
These are therefore the three questions that need to be asked when looking at Free Mobile's network.
To complete the information at its disposal and the findings of the measurements it performed on the Free Mobile network, ARCEP indicated to the Minister responsible for Industry, Energy and the Digital Economy that it was keen to obtain the support of the National frequency agency's (ANFR) technical resources. As a result, the Minister asked ANFR to perform checks on Free Mobile's network installations. On 5 March, the National frequency agency delivered a progress report to the Minister and will be submitting its final report at the end of March. The Minister passed this progress report on to ARCEP, and it was posted on several news sites.
1- Does Free Mobile's network comply with the coverage obligations listed in its licence?
As the Minister recalled yesterday, ARCEP is the sole body empowered to verify that Free Mobile is complying with its regulatory coverage obligations - i.e. 27% of the population at the start of 2012. ARCEP has on two occasions, in late 2011 and early 2012, performed such a verification through field measurements and concluded that this obligation had been met. It emerged that Free Mobile had made the investments needed to achieve this level of coverage. Meanwhile, ANFR verified the operating status of Free transmission base stations and the service rendered by these stations. It then performed a theoretical assessment of Free Mobile's network coverage based on a computer-simulated wave propagation model for those towers it had ascertained as being operational. At this stage, it has ascertained that 92% of the verified sites are properly operational. If this rate were to apply to all of the towers, close to 900 of the 979 towers stated as being transmission-ready would be properly operational, in other words a number significantly higher than the 735 towers that ARCEP counted during its most recent round of checks, carried out one month ago. Even if the ANFR survey cannot be compared with the coverage verifications performed by ARCEP, it nevertheless serves to back up the conclusions that ARCEP reached as a result of its field measurements, namely that Free Mobile was indeed complying with the coverage obligations listed in the terms of its licence.
2- How is the operator's network being used?
The ANFR progress report also mentions - as the Chairman of ARCEP had indicated during his interview on 28 February with the National Assembly Economic Affairs Committee - that a substantial portion of Free Mobile customers' calls were travelling over the Orange network, as part of a roaming agreement between the two operators. At this stage, however, ANFR has not supplied any quantitative data on this subject. In any event, any estimate of what percentage of Free Mobile customers' traffic is being routed over the Free network and over the Orange network, respectively, needs to be set against the technical and pricing terms and conditions of the roaming agreement, which is a private contract between Orange and Free.
3- What quality of service are users receiving?
ARCEP is very careful to ensure that operators are meeting not only their coverage obligations, but also their quality of service ones. This is why, in its report on mobile coverage that was made public in December 2009, the Authority stated that "when characterising the availability of third-generation mobile communication services, both coverage and quality of service need to be taken into account". These two dimensions are essential, but they are distinct and complementary. As consumers may well experience on a daily basis in most city centres, even though they are considered to be covered, it may be difficult at certain times of the day to establish a call or to obtain a fast enough connection. The scorecard on quality of service that ARCEP produces every year, whose findings for 2011 were published on 4 November of last year, provide an opportunity to take stock of the different levels of quality being delivered to consumers. The results of the next survey will be released in late 2012, at which time, and after having worked closely with stakeholders, ARCEP will issue a set of proposals aimed improving QoS measurements.
ARCEP also supports a revised definition of coverage, as the Chairman indicated during his interview on 28 February and which ARCEP departments confirmed during a working meeting this morning at the Ministry of Industry. Detailed proposals will be made in a consolidated report on 2G/3G/4G mobile coverage that the Authority will be publishing in the autumn.
However, the regulatory definition of coverage that applies to the licences that have already been issued and which have become final could not be amended, without causing major legal issues. On the particular matter of requests that operators be penalised for failing to meet their coverage obligations, ARCEP offers the reminder that it is bound by the principles laid down by the highest national and European legal jurisdictions, according to which the interpretation of compliance failures that can be penalised is strictly limited to what is stipulated in the legal texts, in this instance operators' licences, and so cannot be based on definitions that do not derive from this texts.