France’s Free Mobile continued to rack up customer wins last quarter. The upstart carrier owned by broadband ISP Iliad added 805,000 net subscribers, which the company claimed accounted for 60 percent of all new mobile subscriptions in France.
In just nine months of operation, Free has attracted 4.4 million customers, or 6.4 percent of the country’s mobile market, putting enormous pressures on France’s big three. Orange gained 320,000 customers, SFR gained 40,000 and Bouygues Telecom gained 124,000. Free has achieved that feat by offering dirt-cheap mobile voice and data plans, which it maintains in part by offloading much of its traffic onto the millions of home Wi-Fi access points used by its broadband customers.
Some of Free’s enormous growth, however, can be attributed to its free mobile plan, a baseline 60 minute/60 SMS plan it makes available to Iliad’s 5.27 million residential broadband customers. Free doesn’t seem to have much trouble finding paying customers, though.
Despite the low cost of its plans, Free generated €238 million (US $304 million) in revenues in the third quarter. When you subtract handset sales revenue from that number you get an monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) of roughly €16 per month. That’s a pittance compared to what the typical U.S. carrier brings in each month, but price competition is much steeper in Europe, and Free’s whole business model is based on pushing those prices down even further.