Following the announcement that French mobile operators SFR and Bouygues have finalised and signed a network sharing agreement, the country’s telecoms watchdog Arcep has noted that, although it welcomes the deal, it will perform a detailed analysis of the terms of the agreement. According to an Arcep press release, ‘resource pooling agreements can provide telcos with a way to reduce their costs and increase the benefits passed onto users, including increased coverage and a better quality of service from both operators’. However, Arcep pointed out that it needs to be verified that certain conditions have been met: the two operators must remain independent from one another; it must be ascertained that the agreement will not squeeze certain competitors out of the market; and the agreement must result in better coverage and quality of service for end users. The watchdog will perform a detailed examination of the network sharing agreement, in cooperation with the Autorite de la Concurrence (Competition Authority), to establish that these conditions are met in the coming weeks.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, in December 2012 Bouygues confirmed that it had resumed talks with rival SFR over the possibility of sharing their network infrastructure in rural areas. The two companies had been in network sharing discussions since early-2012, although those negotiations ended without a deal being reached. Further, in November 2013 French telecoms provider Iliad, which operates its mobile services under the Free brand, allegedly sent a letter to SFR, Bouygues Telecom, competition watchdog the Autorite de la Concurrence and Arcep, requesting a permission to join the ongoing discussions. An Iliad executive reportedly stated: ‘A deal between two of the three operators of incumbent mobile networks that does not leave room for the fourth operator could be a major destabilising factor’. Further, it has emerged that SFR and Bouygues Telecom were close to finalising the agreement to share their mobile networks, and the companies’ respective management teams were expected to vote on the plans on 31 January 2014.