French Operator Free Slashes Mobile Pricing With 3G Network Launch
French ISP Free lived up to its name Tuesday with its launch of France's fourth mobile phone network.
Since announcing in 2008 Free's intention to enter the mobile market, CEO Xavier Niel has maintained that the company can cut the cost of calling in half.
The French mobile market already has plenty of competitors. Three network operators -- Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom -- offer 2G and 3G services, with over 30 mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) piggy-backing on the three physical networks.
But that's not enough to ensure fair prices, according to Niel.
"They're ripping us off. Well, they're ripping you off: I've already switched to Free Mobile," he said Tuesday at a news conference to present the company's pricing plans.
Free has no operations in other European countries, but if its business model is a success, it could shake up pricing across Europe by providing a benchmark for regulators and setting an example for new market entrants elsewhere.
Basic mobile phone service -- including 60 minutes of outbound calls and 60 outbound text messages -- will be free for the ISP's 4.8 million existing broadband customers, or
Free will also offer "unlimited" plan for
Unlike most other French mobile operators, Free will not offer its subscribers subsidized phones, although it will sell phones separately, inviting customers to spread the cost of the phone over up to three years. As long as they pay for the phone, they're free to end their contract at any time.
Free customers buying the 64GB iPhone 4S will pay
At Orange, France's biggest mobile phone operator, customers can get the same phone for
Free made a name for itself by launching a broadband Internet service for
It won its license to operate a 3G network in December 2009, and has met the French regulator's deadline for initial network coverage. However, large areas of the country remain out of range of its network, so its customers will be allowed to roam on the 2G and 3G networks of Orange while it completes construction of its network. Free has six years to extend its 3G coverage to 90 percent of the population.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at email@example.com.