French regulator Arcep approved an extension to a national roaming agreement between Orange and Iliad’s Free Mobile until the end of 2022, despite scathing criticism from rivals arguing it would cause lasting destabilisation in the sector.

In a statement, Arcep confirmed a two year extension to the existing national roaming agreement which provides Free Mobile users with access to Orange’s 2G and 3G network across France subject to an uplink and downlink cap of 384kb/s.

The regulator added it believed the move would not hinder achievement of “effective and fair competition between operators for the benefit of users and to the development of investment, innovation and competitiveness in the electronic communications sector.”

Iliad’s Free Mobile applied for the extension in April, citing difficulties matching the coverage of its more established rivals. The operator struck its original deal to use Orange’s infrastructure to fill in coverage gaps while building its own network for launch in 2012. The deal was renewed in 2016.

Arcep approved the move despite strong opposition from mobile rivals SFR, Bouygues Telecom and industry group Alternative Telecom, which represents other players including MVNOs.

All three detractors provided grim assessments of the consequences of approving the deal during Arcep’s consultation phase.

In its statement, Bouygues Telecom said the move would “lastingly destabalise” the mobile market, adding the agreement was originally struck to compensate for a competitive disadvantage at the newcomer’s launch.

It noted: “Free Mobile can no longer be described as a new entrant in the mobile telephony market. It today has a network that is broadly comparable to that of its competitors and quite sufficient to allow it to compete vigorously.”

SFR argued the deal offered the Iliad brand an “unacceptable competitive advantage and has serious anticompetitive” implications for the market, while Alternative Telecom argued it would damage competition in the wholesale segment.