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Free gets go-ahead for mobile phones

Cost-cutting internet firm ready to launch its "revolution" early next month

INNOVATIVE internet operator Free is set to launch its mobile phone "revolution" after getting the go-ahead from telecoms regulator Arcep and signing a €1 billion, 10-year deal with rival Orange France.

It has already shaken up the telecoms world with its price-shattering €29.99 Freebox triple-play TV, landline telephone and broadband services - which it dubbed a "revolution" - and is now preparing mobile phone services, thought to include a similar package deal.

It may give details of the services before Christmas, but it cannot start until January 1.

Free has been given the go-ahead to launch after setting up its own 3G network covering 25% of the country. That was the limit set before it could sign a deal to get wider access by piggy-backing on country-wide network of Orange France. It will become the country's fourth mobile operator alongside Orange, Bouygues and SFR.

Arcep said Free must start its new service before January 12 and the deal to use the Orange network comes into effect on January 1.

Free intends to extend its mobile phone network by offering its present four million customers a "femtocell" to be installed in their homes. This is a cellular base station that gives vastly improved mobile phone coverage and gives neighbouring properties secure access to Free's network.

Xavier Niel, owner of Free and part-owner of Le Monde, tweeted "The rocket is on the launch-pad" after the Arcep announcement and rival operators are now waiting to see what the new forfait packages will contain and at what price. Last month Niel told Libération: "We will have the most complete and cheapest package."

Like Bouygues when it was set up, Free has been given a preferential tariff by Arcep to "restore a competitive balance". It gives Free users cheaper calls to rival networks.

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