France is forecast to hit 10 million LTE connections within five years, accounting for close to one in eight of the country’s total connections by 2017, according to new Wireless Intelligence data.
French operators are due to begin rolling out their first LTE networks this summer following the country’s LTE spectrum auctions last year, which saw all four players acquire LTE-suitable airwaves in a sale that netted the government over EUR3.5 billion in total.
The market is currently led by Orange France (44 percent share) and SFR (35 percent) and Wireless Intelligence expects these two players to maintain their dominance in LTE, accounting for a combined 80 percent of French LTE connections by 2017.
France Telecom-owned Orange has pledged to roll-out LTE in all its markets in the EU by 2015, and has selected the French city of Marseille as the location for an LTE pilot beginning in June. SFR – owned by Vivendi – has already tested LTE in the southern metropolis with NSN last year and is planning its first LTE deployments in Lyon and Montpellier early next year. The third-largest player, Bouygues Telecom, will pilot its LTE network in Lyon beginning in June and expects 5,000 LTE base stations to be deployed by year end paving the way for an early 2013 launch. By end of next year, Wireless Intelligence expects that all three operators will have covered the major French cities with LTE services.
The LTE plans of Iliad’s Free Mobile, the disruptive and fast-growing new market entrant, are not yet known, though it did acquire a chunk of 2.6GHz spectrum at auction last year. Its three larger rivals acquired spectrum at both 2.6GHz and the more expensive 800MHz, the latter band having been freed up via France’s switch from terrestrial to digital TV.
In the early years of LTE, the French operators will supplement their high-speed network strategies with on-going investment in dual-carrier HSPA+ technology, which can offer theoretical top speeds of 42Mb/s.
Orange announced recently that it is on track to rollout HSPA+ to 60 percent of the French population by year-end, up from about 50 percent currently, adding new cities such as Bordeaux, Nancy, Metz, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Angouleme. It has also launched a new data tariff family called ‘H+’ to enable access to the network.
However, SFR claims to have the country’s most extensive HSPA+ network covering over 98 percent of the population. It hopes to upgrade 63 percent of users on this network to 42Mb/s speeds by year-end. Bouygues has pledged 50 percent population coverage for its 42MB/s HSPA+ network by June this year.
This renewed focus on high-speed networks and services by the three incumbent players is in part a reaction to the disruptive launch of Free Mobile at the beginning of the year.
According to Wireless Intelligence estimates, Free Mobile’s strategy of undercutting its established rivals on price saw the new entrant reach its 3 million customer target three months after launch, giving it a 5 percent market share. Orange announced in February that its French mobile customer base had declined by over 200,000 subscribers (net) following Free’s launch on 10 January, with Orange’s number portability requests peaking at 150,000 a day in the first 48 hours. There were similar net declines in Q1 at both SFR (-250,000) and Bouygues (-199,000), according to Wireless Intelligence.
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