Orange CEO Stephane Richard lamented lower returns from co-financing deals struck with fellow French operators for fibre network deployments, which led to a hit in the company’s third quarter earnings.

The operator recorded core profit of €3.6 billion, flat versus Q3 2020, with revenue of €10.5 billion also on par with the comparable period. Orange noted in its earnings statement the latter figure would have risen 1.3 per cent without co-financing agreements, and highlighted a strong performance in retail services and acceleration of sales from convergence, mobile and fixed broadband.

Notably, Orange agreed deals with both Bouygues Telecom and Iliad Group unit Free Mobile for fibre deployments, which net the incumbent payments for the right to use its infrastructure.

Richard said Orange’s sustained commercial performance in the third quarter allowed it to confirm its financial commitments for the full year, while ongoing digital transformation ignited by the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic indicated appetite for fibre, 5G and converged offers.

This was translated by a 36 per cent increase in fibre customers to 5.6 million in France, however its accounts “reflect little of this promising trend owing to the decline in co-financing received from other operators” on the network in 2021 compared with 2020.

Richard explained the Spanish market remained “fragmented”, but it gained customers across all segments and is fully engaged on a turnaround strategy in the country.

Orange described Africa and the Middle East as its main growth engine, with revenue up 12 per cent to €1.7 billion, driven by mobile data uptake. In total, it now has 40 million 4G customers in the regions, a 33.6 per cent increase.