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New Free Mobile network approved

Telecoms watchdog says low-cost operator has more than enough coverage to meet its licence obligations

TELECOMS watchdog Arcep has given new operator Free Mobile the thumbs up for its coverage - after weeks of claims that the company did not have enough working antennae.

Free launched its new mobile phone service at the beginning of January with ground-breaking offers of just €2 for one hour of calls and 60 texts or €19.99 for an unlimited contract (with no phone supplied).

However, new subscribers had difficulty getting calls to connect and Free was accused of cutting costs by not building enough antennae.

Rival operators - who had been reeling under the impact of the low-cost contracts despite launching their own rival tariffs - claimed

it was simply piggy-backing on the coverage provided by Orange; with whom it had signed a supply contract.

Free's licence said it should have had coverage of 27% of the population when it started operating and the Orange deal was to fill in the gaps. Its must provide 75% coverage by January 2015 and 90% by 2018.

Autorité des Télécoms president Jean-Ludovic Silicani said it had run a second series of tests and found Free provided 28% coverage on January 31, with 735 antennae fully working. This was an increase of 200 antennae since the previous test in December.

Orange had complained two weeks ago that 90-95% of the calls from Free subscribers used its network and Bouygues Telecom had said Free was "building a network on the cheap without making the necessary investment".

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