No surprises as Free Mobile undercuts rivals on 5G

French challenger brand Free Mobile has followed Bouygues, Orange and SFR by launching 5G, repeating its usual trick of arriving last, but offering access at no extra cost.

It is similar to how the operator announced its arrival in the mobile market back in 2012, winning millions of customers with its aggressively-discounted tariffs, to the consternation of its aforementioned rivals. It seems Free parent Iliad has taken the view that if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it.

“True to its founding values, Free has decided to bring 5G within everyone’s reach by including it in the Free Mobile Plan, while keeping the same prices and increasing the fair use data limit,” said Free, in a statement.

What this means is, fixed-line broadband customers who subscribe to either its €10 per month Freebox Pop plan, or its €16 per month Freebox plan, will get unlimited 5G thrown in at no extra cost. Mobile-only customers will be able to get 150 GB of 5G data for a monthly fee of €20 – the same price as its 4G plan.

“To get 5G access, subscribers just need to activate the 5G service online in their subscriber space,” Free said.

By comparison, unlimited 5G data from Orange starts at €80 per month. Bouygues Telecom doesn’t offer unlimited data; its 5G plans max out at 120 GB, which costs €45 per month.

In terms of coverage, a direct comparison between Free and its rivals is a challenge. While the latter have announced specific locations where 5G is available, Free instead claimed that it has the largest 5G footprint, covering 40 percent of the French population from launch. It didn’t detail exactly where its network has gone live, but instead directs people to its coverage checker.

According to Free’s Website, it has activated 5G on 5,255 sites. 220 of those sites use its 3.5-GHz spectrum, which is good for high throughput, while the rest use its re-farmed 700-MHz spectrum, which offers broad coverage, including indoors.

This suggests that while Free Mobile is cheaper and more widely-available, 5G from the likes of Orange, Bouygues and SFR will generally offer a faster connection, albeit in limited locations and for a higher price.

It sets the stage then for an interesting tustle for 5G leadership.

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