Friday, February 10, 2012

France Is The New Land Of The Free

I hope my American friends won't mind the title I chose for this blog post. I just wanted to write a post about "Free".So, What is "Free" (no pun intended)?

Well, Free is a French company headed by French entrepreneur Xavier Niel (aka @Xavier75) that revolutionized Internet access prices in France.

First off, let me put forward that France did have a very modern infrastructure and telephone network compared to most other countries back in the eighties. This was, in part, due to the fact that back in the 1970s, the infrastructure was so antiquated that it was decided to install a whole new telecommunication network in the country. This led, in part, to the advent of the world-famous but now forgotten "Minitel".

Back in 1982, it was launched as a replacement for the paper edition of the Yellow Pages and any telephone subscriber could get one for free. Though it might not look like much and seem pretty useless by 2012 standards, the Minitel spawned a real tech revolution in France. In a few years, almost all households were equipped with a terminal sporting a blazingly (pun intended) fast asynchronous 1200bps/75bps modem. Yes, you read right: I didn't forget the "k" or the "m" in "bps": 1200 bits per second download speed and 75 bits per second upload speed. At the time, nobody needn't faster speeds, computers couldn't stream or even play video or music. Most of the stuff you would do online was text only.

And the French did have fun with their Minitels. In a few years, basic email and even online dating services were ubiquitous and the French did have their share of fun while taming new technologies.

It is no coincidence if I mention this in my article as Xavier Niel's fortune came from the golden days of the Minitel era. You have to admire his talent for spotting new trends in technology and, good for him, making a profit from it.

Later on in the nineties, when the Internet bubble reached France, broadband access became, compared to other developed countries, more widely available. I, for myself, had a 512kbps Cable connection at home back in 1997 when most of my foreign friends were anxiously waiting for the release of 56Kbps modems. On good days, I could even reach 2Mbps download speeds. I remember being in awe after downloading the latest version of Netscape in less than 30 seconds for this 6Mb archive in 1997. But broadband access came at a price: around €75/month. That was still ok at the time considering that local phone calls were expensive in France. Indeed, using a dial-up connection was more expensive if you factored in the price of local calls (around 2.25 French Francs per hour which translates into €0.33 per hour).

So for a while, the French were ok with paying something like €75 per month for broadband Internet access. But that was until Xavier Niel came on board. He literally transformed the market overnight pricing DSL Internet access at €29.90 per month. Eventually, all his competitors lowered their prices dramatically to something in the same ball park.

Later on, he revolutionized things even further by offering for the same old €29.90 price tag a triple play offer: unlimited domestic & to 100 countries VoIP calls, TV & Internet access. On top of that, clients could get rid of their telephone subscription by a procedure called "dégroupage". So, people that were paying €15 for their telephone line, €75 for their internet access and another €40 for cable TV ended up paying a mere €29.90 monthly fee with the added benefits of unlimited long-distance and out of country phone calls.

THAT WAS A REVOLUTION. And Xavier Niel, recognizing this, promptly released his FreeBox REVOLUTION which serves a media center, Blu-ray player, VoIP, DSL, Fiber optics, TV and gaming system hub in the households of Free subscribers. Yes: you read right Fiber optics. If you have Fiber Optics Internet Connectivity in your area, you will get 100Mbps/50Mbps Internet access for the price of €37.90 per month (that is the price associated with the the subscription that comes with the Freebox REVOLUTION), otherwise you'll get 28Mbps/1Mbps DSL. Customers can still get an older Freebox and pay €29.90 per month but they won't have access to Fiber Optics Internet Access or other new services. Let me stress the fact that there is no upfront cost if you want a Freebox REVOLUTION. All you have to pay is €37.90 per month for the works!

But Xavier Niel did not stop there. Earlier this year, on January 12th to be precise, Xavier Niel launched Free Mobile, his cellular carrier brand.

And the only thing I can say is: "Oops, he did it again".

Before him and despite the numerous totally biased studies that his competitors tried to feed the French public, France was one of the most expensive countries when it came to cell phones.

I would pay €75 per month for 5 hours of anytime airtime + unlimited weekend calls (starting Friday at midnight) + unlimited text & picture messaging + 3Gb of data. When I go on vacation in the US, I usually go prepaid and get unlimited everything for US$60. And don't tell me that my brand new iPhone 4S was subsidized and that is why I'm paying so much in France. As a matter of fact, I paid my iPhone 4S more through my cellular phone carrier "Orange" than if I had bought it at an Apple Store.

Xavier Niel changed that overnight. He announced on January, 12th, 2012 the launch of Free Mobile with an all-you-can-dream-of plan priced at €19.99. Yeah, you read right: all you can dream: unlimited voice, texts, picture messaging & Internet for €19.99 plus unlimited voice calls to 40 countries.

All other carriers  had to follow and in less than a week, cell phone contract prices were at least divided by 2.

I can only say one thing: I believe I proved my initial point: "France Is The New Land Of The Free". Where else can you get:

- Home: 100Mbps/50Mbps fiber optics Internet access or 28Mbps/1Mbps DSL, unlimited VoIP to more than 100 countries, TV, Blu-Ray player, gaming system for €37.90 per month
- Cellular: Unlimited voice to 40 countries, unlimited text, unlimited picture messaging, unlimited Internet (speed capped after 3Gb). VoIP, Newsgroups, Tethering, VPN use are all included & authorized. All this for €19.99.

Thank you @Xavier75!

1 comment:

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