In his typical fashion, Free Mobile’s passionate CEO Xavier Niel announced the mobile provider’s 4G offer via Twitter this week. Less than two years after Niel announced that his company Iliad would offer unlimited calls, text, and 3G data for just 19,99€ with an equally astonishing 2,99€ plan without data, Niel has announced that he will be offering a 20Gb 4G data plan with unlimited calling & texting at no additional price – that is, just 19,99€.
As is to be expected, the twitterverse exploded, with #FreeMobile trending in France, and many Free Mobile users boasting of their fantastically low 4G mobile plan prices (“Fantastic” in this case may be the appropriate word, as there are indeed some near-fictional elements to the announcement). In their official press release[fr], Iliad boasts a total of 700 4G sites that already in place in France, and that their prices are 5 times less expensive than competitors.
Iliad’s first launch of its 3G plan has been quite successful – in less than two years, its managed to take 10-11% of the mobile market from competitors like Bouygues, SFR & Orange, and many were quick to pronounce this week’s announcement as the last nail in the coffin for competitors to Free, who offer more or less the same mobile plan starting at 29,99€ – Bouygues, for example, starts at 29,99€ for 3 Gb, with their matching highest 16 Gb data plan going as high as 60€/month.
It’s all in the Network Coverage
However, those familiar with Free Mobile’s spotty 3G mobile coverage will not be surprised to learn that Fee Mobile’s current 4G network of 700 sites only covers 7% of France, and while the service claims to cover major cities like Paris, Marseille Lyon and other major cities, one publisher cited the fact that Marseille alone requires 200 sites for full coverage.
18 months into Free Mobile’s 3G plan, users across France are still upset about spotty coverage, throttled data connections for services like YouTube, and subscribers are realizing that they are getting exactly what they paid for, no more & no less. With Free Mobile’s dwindling reputation around its 3G network, it’s hard to imagine that users who have stayed with competitors are going to jump ship at the same numbers as they have in the past 18 months, at least not until their concerns are answered around the reliability of Free Mobile’s 4G network.