French communications company Iliad this morning announced that the country’s regulator, ARCEP, has awarded its mobile subsidiary (Free) a 3G license. The decision ends years of speculation concerning the country’s fourth 3G license holder, although today’s decision is not a surprise as Free was the only bidder. “Iliad is pleased with this decision,” the company noted in a statement. “The allocation of the licence will enable the Group to extend to mobile communication the technological and pricing innovation dynamics that turned it into a leader for landline telecommunications. The introduction of a fourth network operator will facilitate the emergence of profitable MVNOs and ease mobile multimedia usage take-off, for the benefit of consumers… By becoming a major mobile multimedia player, in addition to its landline operator activities (ADSL and FTTH), Iliad is now in a position, like its main competitors, to become a major contributor to convergence.” Free Mobile said it intends to share network infrastructure with rival operators where possible.

Several other firms, including French cable operator Numericable, Virgin Mobile and Egypt’s Orascom, had considered bidding but pulled out with concerns over the cost and delays of building a national mobile network. In August the bidding process for France’s long-awaited fourth 3G license was launched by the country’s government, with an asking price of EUR240 million. In October it emerged that French conglomerate Bouygues had submitted a complaint to France’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, regarding the price of the license, as it was considerably lower than the EUR619 million Bouygues paid to gain its own 3G license in 2002. According to Wireless Intelligence, France has a mobile penetration rate of 93 percent. Market leader Orange has 26 million connections, followed by SFR on 25.5 million and Bouygues on 10 million.