THE launch of Free Mobile saw a rush of traffic towards the firm’s new site – causing it to be out of action until mid-afternoon – and a rush of customers to the firm’s handful of shops.
There were long queues outside the shops in Rouen, Troyes and Angers (dozens more are planned), which also kept their doors closed until the online service became available, because they use it to register subscriptions.
There was also a buzz online, with the Facebook pages of the three competitors, deluged with mocking comments about their more expensive rates.
Some users simply pasted in blocks of €19.99s – in reference to the price of Free’s “unlimited” package – while one posted “goodbye thieves”. Another said: “I knew we were being ripped off, but to that extent… it’s hard to take.”
Launching the offers, Free boss Xavier Niel said yesterday his price was several times cheaper than others, but was correct for the market, adding France’s current tariffs were the most expensive in the world. He urged people to either move to Free or demand their own provider match the price.
On its Facebook page Orange posted a message saying “We’ll leave Free Mobile to make the most of this launch day. We will continue together to develop our packages”.
Free’s headline offer is the €19.99 one (€15.99 for people with a Freebox), but there is also €2 one for 60 minutes of calls and 60 texts, which undercuts a “social” mobile tariff introduced by the government at €10 for 40 minutes and 40 texts.
The tarifs are without contractual obligations and without a phone, though there are options to have telephones supplied on interest-free credit, such as a Samsung Galaxy Y for €1 on order and then €11.98 a month over a year. At the launch Mr Niel promised the latest iPhones would be available, though they are not yet listed on the firm’s site.
The UK is among 40 countries to which free landline calls can be made as part of the main package, however it is not one of a handful of countries – mainly the USA and Canada - which attract free calls to mobiles as well. Texts and MMS messages are only free in mainland France.
Other companies’ current “unlimited” packages, without a mobile or set contract period, range from B&You’s at €37.90 to SFR’s Carré Absolu at €85.
SFR’s managing director for services to the general public, Franck Cadoret, said they would look at new offers for their “Red” budget range of packages, however he insisted price was not everything. “It is also about quality of service and network coverage.” Orange said they had a “plan to retaliate”, which will initially include new tariffs for its “Sosh” packages.