Arcep wants the country’s operators to wind up their network-sharing deals, including the contentious Orange-Free Mobile agreement.
The regulator said the deal that enables Free Mobile users to roam onto Orange’s 2G and 3G network cannot be justified in the long term, however much it eased Free Mobile’s market entry.
Arcep wants the agreement to end without waiting for the existing contract to expire. For 3G, the agreement should finish between end-2018 and end-2020, it said. For the less important 2G services, the agreement should end between the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2022.
The country’s other main network-sharing deal is between SFR and Bouygues Telecom, involving 2G, 3G and 4G over a large part of France. The regulator wants to ensure the deal delivers improved coverage and quality of service claimed for it.
Arcep only set an end date for the 4G part, which involves SFR users using a part of the Bouygues Telecom network. The regulator wants to encourage 4G investment so has set an end date for this arrangement between end-2016 and end-2018.
Arcep has laid out its position in a document for public consultation. The deadline for any feedback is 23 February. The document will also be submitted to the country’s Competition Authority.
The regulator stresses that its analysis is based on the market’s current structure for four operators and could be amended should events require, a reference to Orange’s merger talks with Bouygues Telecom.
Orange of course would be in a position to sell off infrastructure if it goes ahead with its takeover of Bouygues Telecom. Any regulatory settlement will likely involve the disposal of physical networks to a rival to satisfy competition concerns.
Orange could then contribute to the winding down of the current network-sharing regime, potentially fitting with the regulator’s agenda.