Orange CEO Stephane Richard believes consolidation in France could be back on the cards in 2016 after the sale of new 4G frequencies in the country.

Speaking to French daily newspaper Les Echos, Richard said “today, consolidation is not on the agenda but it will perhaps reappear next year”.

Cable-to-mobile disruptor Altice last attempted to reduce the highly competitive market to three players, but had a €10 billion bid to acquire rival Bouygues Telecom rejected in June.

Along with Bouygues Telecom and SFR Numericable, Orange also competes with Iliad’s Free.

The country now plans to auction frequencies in the 700MHz band to boost 4G coverage in the country, presently used for broadcasting, before the end of this year.

Richard noted that “consolidation has gotten under way in all major European countries except France”.

“We are the country where operators have the lowest margins in Europe.”

Cross border consolidation
Richard, who is a known supporter of a European single telecoms market, also suggested that national tie-ups could eventually lead to cross border consolidation.

“When the prospect of the single market becomes clear, operators will come into motion and Orange will aim to play a role in this consolidation,” he added.

Speaking of the domestic market, Richard said Orange was now focusing more on promotions, rather than cutting prices, as it had done when Free first entered the market.

Free’s 2012 entry into the market has seen the country’s largest players be embroiled in an intense price war for some time.

“At Orange, we don’t plan to take part in this one-upmanship,” he is quoted as saying. “We are proving that we can win customers in the fixed and mobile space without massacring prices.”

According to GSMA Intelligence, Orange has more than 27 million total connections in France, making it the country’s largest player. SFR-Numericable is its closest competitor, with more than 23 million connections.