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The 4G network in France: the business user opportunity

France has auctioned off additional spectrum to the country's mobile operators – but what will this mean for business users?

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Europe: CW Europe - January 2016

France has completed an auction of six blocks of 700MHz frequencies to provide the four mobile operators with additional spectrum for LTE, LTE-Advanced and future 5G networks.

It had been speculated that Free Mobile – which entered France’s mobile market in 2012 and has been quickly building its 3G and 4G networks ever since – would either be allocated 700MHz frequencies by regulator Arcep or would struggle to get any spectrum at all. Neither scenario materialised: both Free Mobile and Orange succeeded in obtaining two 5MHz duplex blocks, while Bouygues Telecom and SFR each gained one block.

Frédéric Pujol, head of the radio technologies and spectrum practice at consultancy and research firm Idate, said it was crucial for Free Mobile to have obtained 700MHz spectrum.

“It could make a real difference to Free Mobile,” Pujol said. The spectrum provides the operator with its first low-range frequencies and will enable it to accelerate the roll-out of 4G services across France. The company now holds 55MHz of 3G and 4G frequencies in total, following the auction.

For its part, Orange now has over 90MHz of spectrum in total, while SFR has 80MHz of spectrum assets. Bouygues Telecom said its range of frequencies now represents 25% of the available spectrum.

The additional spectrum assets will help operators improve services to consumers and business customers with better coverage and more capacity. As of November 2015, 22,110 mobile masts had been authorised for 4G in France, according to figures from France’s frequencies agency, ANFR. Orange has 8,028 towers, followed by Bouygues Telecom with 6,789. Free Mobile has now overtaken SFR to take third position with 5,164 masts, and Numericable-SFR takes fourth place with 3,697 transmitters.

The consumer market in France is already highly competitive, largely thanks to Free Mobile, which also recently launched a 50GB 4G plan for only €19.99 a month. Free Mobile does not yet offer specific plans for business customers but, interestingly, its consumer plans have attracted the attention of small businesses because of the low prices and high inclusivity of 3G – and now 4G – data volumes.

Operators' business packages

If Free Mobile steps up its efforts to provide more targeted enterprise offerings with similarly competitive rates to its consumer plans, it could be much more disruptive in the market for business users.

The enterprise market is certainly valuable to operators. According to Arcep, the business market is maintaining consistent growth, rising 2.9% year on year in the second quarter of 2015, with to 7.8 million SIM cards. That compared with a rise of just 0.4% in the residential market to over 60 million SIM cards, compared with growth of 3.1% a year earlier.

Furthermore, a company on average spends just over €30 per month for each subscribed line, compared with €20 per month for residential subscriptions.

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Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR all sell mobile plans to business customers, and place a strong focus on elements such as data multi-SIM plans to share data allowances, multi-service bundles combining fixed and mobile services, inclusive data roaming, national WiFi, dedicated business support and cloud services, such as Le Cloud Pro from Orange.

Valérie Cussac, vice-president of mobile, France and International, at Orange Business Services, said the company’s 4G network is a “key asset when thinking about mobile workers, working in the enterprise’s premises but also when visiting their customers or at home”.

“The indoor and outdoor coverage combined with always-expanding bandwidth, for both downlink and uplink channels, are opening new fields for our business customers. Above the performance, what really matters to customers is how they use mobile. One of the most concrete examples is how our very high broadband networks are enabling the digital workspace, especially when the IT resources of the company are outsourced in the cloud. Then the mobile network is all the more critical for the business,” Cussac said.

Orange manages a portfolio of more than 2 million SMEs and business customers in France, along with 50,000 medium and large enterprises, 250 key accounts, as well as 3,000 international large accounts.

According to Cussac, the company offers services that are all accessible from its 4G network, ranging from packaged services for SMEs through to tailor-made services for key clients. “Eighteen months after launch, all enterprise offers have become 4G-ready, as it is critical for business purposes,” said Cussac.

Complex business tariffs

Hervé Dhélin, worldwide marketing director at comms supplier EfficientIP, said most 4G providers and mobile phone operators generally offer a good service, but warned that the level and standard of customer support is still an issue.

He said Free Mobile has not yet fully embraced business customers. “Free offers such low-cost contracts it only provides online support and, although Free has dramatically decreased costs for individual customers – I have reduced my personal monthly bill from an average of €65 per month to €15.99 – business customers have yet to benefit from the same reductions,” Dhélin added.

Pujol at Idate said mobile operators do not make much effort to compete in the business market, as was evident from his company’s own experience as an SME with 50 mobile lines: “The tariffs are generally quite high,” he said.

He said business tariffs are very complicated, making it difficult for a business user to compare and anticipate costs. He said it would be useful to have simple analysis tools to be able to gain a clearer view of pricing.

Orange’s Cussac said operators are responding to business demands for mobile services, but they face different challenges depending on who leads the adoption of mobile services in the organisation.

For example, the CTO at public accounting firm BDO wanted to put applications in the cloud. “It equipped its teams with smartphones and 4G Dominos routers to quickly download and update large and critical files in real time,” she said.

Meanwhile, human resource (HR) consulting company deployed 4G tablets to enable an innovative way of recruiting people using video conferencing application Visioconference, Cussac said.


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