The cost of running a mobile phone in France has fallen substantially this year. We review the best offers.
<p><span style="font-weight: normal; font-style: italic;">POSTSCRIPT:
Whilst this article remains useful for background information, for more
up to date information on charges and offers in France readers are
invited to refer to our article reviewing <a href="https://www.french-property.com/news/money_france/internet_mobile_phone_deals_2016/"><span style="FONT-WEIGHT: bold">Broadband and Mobile Phone Package Deals.</span></a></span></p></div>
Credit for the fall in prices must go to Free Mobile who entered the market earlier this year with offers that pulverised the competition. They did so against a huge campaign of vilification organised by the other main networks, which continues to this day.
In particular, the other operators have made a great deal of fuss about the sparsity of the Free telecoms infrastructure, which currently covers only one third of the country. However, this meets the requirements of the French telecoms regulator, and where they do not have their own network, Free are able to hop a lift with Orange, with whom there is a sharing agreement.
The standard offer from Free costs €19.99 a month, giving unlimited anytime calls and texts to other mobiles and landlines in France (and to the USA and Canada), as well as unlimited calls from France to landlines in 40 countries on the planet. It also comes with 3G internet access. At the time it was launched other similar offers cost around €40 a month.
For those who are only occasional mobile phone users, Free have a low-cost offer for €2 per month, giving 60 minutes of calls to mobiles and landlines in France, as well as 60 minutes of texts and data. Internet access is available with this option for another €2 a month.
If you are also a client of Free for their internet router (Freebox) the standard offer is reduced to €15.99, while the low-cost option comes free of charge.
Another ground breaking feature of the Free offers is that there is no minimum contract period, so you are free to change your operator or contract at any time without penalty.
In the face of such competition the other networks – Orange, Bouygues and SFR - have been obliged to follow suit, so that all now have similar 'forfaits illimités' offers from €19.99 to €24.99.
Perhaps the most competitive of these is that from the Bougyues low-cost subsidiary B&YOU, whose offer is almost identical to that of Free.
There is much the same from mobile operators who piggyback on the networks, such as Virgin, NRJ, La Poste, Budget Telecom, Leclerc, Auchan, Carrefour etc, although, with the arrival of Free, many are finding it difficult to establish a foothold in the market.
We are not able here to go into the small print of the jungle of offers, so if you have particular requirements - such as a substantial internet requirement or you frequently ring mobile numbers abroad - then you need to do a little research.
One important point to note is that if you are already on a fixed term contract with an existing operator there are likely to be penalties to pay to terminate the contract unless the fixed term has expired.
Whatever maybe the case, you are entitled to keep your existing number, and your new operator can take care of the formalities of the switch for you.
Pay As You Go
For those who prefer to PAYG, hitherto the problem has been that the offers required that credits are used within a specified period or they expire. The validity of the credit varies from 1 week to 1 year depending on the amount purchased.
The other disadvantage of these otherwise useful offers is that the cost per minute of the calls is substantially higher than those via a monthly phone deals. For calls within France it is around 30 to 60 cents per minute, compared to around 5 to 10 cents on monthly contracts.
However, B&YOU recently launched a PAYG offer which breaks new ground on such deals. Under their Carte prépayée offer the recharges are not time limited and the call rate within France is 10 cents per minute. So no fear of the credit expiring and calls at a reasonable rate, provided you use the phone at least once a year.
Recharging of the phone credit is through the mobile itself using a bank card, although it will soon be possible to recharge over the internet.
While most of the standard offers give free calls to landlines in many countries, mobile numbers are normally charged, with rates that vary.
In the case of Free it is 19 per minute to the UK, while for B&You it is 47 cents per minute, rising to 50 cents a minute on the pre-paid offer.
These charges need to be distinguished from the charges imposed for calls made to France when you are travelling abroad, the so-called 'roaming' charges.
For several years now there have been controls imposed by the EU on such charges.
As a result, since 1st July 2012 calls from abroad on your mobile to another EEA country have been capped at a maximum of 29 cents a minute, while the cost of call receipt cannot be higher than 8 cents a minute. There is also a maximum of 90 cents for sending an SMS. The rates are all ex VAT.
A further phased reduction in maximum charges will also take place, reducing by around a further 40% between now and 2014. By next July the price of calls cannot be greater than 24 cents per minute, falling to 19 cents by July 2014. For calls received the maximum rates fall to 7 cents next July and 5 cents by July 2014.