In the weeks coming up to the iPhone5 launch last year after the new phone was announced, most of Europe was buzzing with one common problem – not one single carrier was running the correct frequency (1800MHz) in order to provide the iPhone with 4G. Most of the carriers had built 2600MHz & 800MHz frequencies dedicated to 4G, as recommended by the European Commission, and the news that the iPhone would only supports 1800MHz left a lot of carriers feeling, well, stupid. As the European Commission quickly scrambled to announce that they recommended that carriers plan to build 1800MHz networks for 4G, only one carrier in France seemed positioned to have 4G in the next 12 months – Bouygues Telecom.
Bouygues already had a 1800MHz network, that was used for the old 2G networks – it has very few customers who depend on that network, so it quickly petitioned to ‘convert’ that network into a 4G network, a process that is much more simple than building an entirely new network.
Bouygues has been waiting patiently, expecting to hear back from ARCEP (French TelCo regulators) in Q1 2013 with approval, but now it seems that other operators, tied up in other operations, are trying to stall the process as long as possible. Orange and SFR don’t plan to have the network up until mid 2014, as noted in Numerama, and Free Mobile can’t get its own 3G network up, so they’re pushing for 2015 – Bouygues is ready to be up & running in a matter of months, but now the other operators are saying “no no no, Bouygues can’t have a monopoly on the iPhone5, that’s not fair.”
Now I know that Telecom Regulation is necessary, and taking anti-monopolistic measures is necessary, but all these carriers are making 4G not a priority, and they’re trying to stop Bouygues, who, really, has nothing left to offer customers (they have been the hardest hit by Free Mobile’s entrance into the market in the past year), and need a little win like this. Orange is making money off of renting Free Mobile its network, who now counts 3.5 Million paying customers. SFR has been hit hard, but they had stronger legs to stand on, competing with Orange in the premium mobile category, and they’ve got their parent company Vivendi who can bail them out (though Vivendi has been shopping around for buyers for quite some time).
Xavier Niel said in an interview with LeFigaro this week that while it would surely be a win for Bouygues Telecom to be the only operator who can fully support the iPhone5, the company has other problems to work out, like the fact that its bleeding employees who are lining up to be ‘let go.’ He said “I bet they wish they had launched 4G before we arrived,” citing Free Mobile as the reason Bouygues has lost nearly 1000 employees this past year – I have a feeling, in the back of his mind, Niel is really saying “I sure hope Orange gets their 4G up fast, so we can piggyback off of it.”
Personally, I hope ARCEP rules for a 2013 launch of the 1800MHz network for Bouygues – not only am I a customer, but they could definitely use something to differentiate themselves in the 4-player market.