Xavier Niel’s operator and the incumbent operator wish to extend their roaming agreement. Free intends to borrow Orange’s 2G and 3G networks until 2025. The ball is now in Arcep’s court, which will have to decide.
Ten years after having tumbled onto the mobile phone market, Free Mobile is not yet fully on its own. Xavier Niel’s operator still relies on a roaming contract concluded with Orange in 2011, when Free arrived. The agreement allows Free Mobile toborrow the 2G and 3G networks of Orangein order to allow it to offer sufficient coverage throughout the country.
The Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications, Posts and Press Distribution (Arcep) has just announced that it has received a new request from the two operators. It provides for the extension of this system for another three years, i.e. until 2025. This date owes nothing to chance and corresponds to the period chosen by Orange to cut its 2G network. The new agreement still includes a “cap on the maximum upload and download speeds achievable by Free Mobile customers when roaming at 384 kbit/s”. This covers the entire period, from 2023 to 2025.
It is also about a “financial mechanism” whose objective is to encourage “to the reduction in the number of Free Mobile customers using the Orange 2G/3G network “. However, the regulator does not specify the details of this project.
Orange and Free, “and it’s not over”
To use the terms of an advertising campaign by SFR – competitor of Free and Orange –; the merger between Orange and Free is not ” not finished “. Started in 2012, it has already been renewed in 2016 then 2020 and was due to end on December 31, 2022. Free’s interest may surprise while the Orange network “represents only 1% of traffic” and the bit rate is limited to 384 kbit/s. Xavier Niel, however, mentioned the need to continue the adventure because of the presence of 2G subscribers at Free. However, Free Mobile currently only has 373 2G antennas (PDF) in service, against around 20,000 for its three competitors. This delay is explained by the fact that Free has only been deploying 2G on the territory since the beginning of the year.
For its part, Orange welcomes the extension of this 2G and 3G roaming contract. Indeed, he would bring in several million euros to the incumbent operator. The agreement thus appears to be a win-win for Orange and Free. Conversely, SFR and Bouygues Telecom had criticized this alliance, which therefore risks being renewed until 2025.
Arcep must now to give – or not – its approval and has the power to ask Orange and Free to modify this contract. In 2020, the authority estimated that it “do not appear necessary to ask Free Mobile and Orange to modify their contract”.