The French mobile industry is set for a shake-up after the issue of a fourth 3G license to Free, a subsidiary of the aggressive Groupe Iliad.
The decision was expected after rivals Virgin Mobile and Numericable dropped out of the bidding.
It pits Free against France Telecom’s Orange, Bouygues Telecom and Neuf-SFR in the 3G market.
The incumbent players, who had paid €619 million ($885 million) each for their 3G licences a decade ago, fought fiercely against the issue of the fourth franchise, arguing they were being unfairly treated FT.com noted.
Free will pay €240 million, although for a smaller slice of spectrum. Regulator Arcep had rejected Iliad’s bid two years ago,
Free has become France’s second largest ISP by offering triple-play bundled voice, data and internet TV services for less than €30 ($43) a month.
Iliad chief Xavier Niel has promised to halve fees for French mobile consumers.
The new operator will receive its license in January and will have two years to build its network. Its service is due to start at the beginning of 2012 and it is expected to cover 75% of the population in 2015 and 90% in 2018.