Xavier Niel, the founder of French mobile-phone upstart Iliad, has suggested the operator may be preparing to launch 4G services during an interview with the Europe1 radio station.
“We will try to provide a surprise one day,” he is quoted as saying by Dow Jones Newswires.
The operator has been advancing rapidly in the 2G and 3G markets since launching services in early 2012 at a fraction of the prices charged by the country’s incumbents.
France Telecom (Paris, France), SFR (Paris, France) and Bouygues (Paris, France) have been forced to slash their tariffs in response, but they have also been hoping to differentiate themselves through 4G while Iliad (Paris, France) is focused on building out its network.
Iliad still relies on roaming deals with its competitors to provide services in many parts of the country, but aims to cover 75% of France by 2015 and 90% by 2018 with its own infrastructure.
Last week, Bouygues said it would recruit new sales staff after winning the right to run 4G services over 1800MHz spectrum originally provided for use with basic voice services.
Meanwhile, France Telecom claims to have launched 4G services in 15 “agglomerations”, including 50 towns, and several districts in Paris.
Its Origami Play 4G service costs from €30.90 ($40.22) per month and supports theoretical download speeds of up to 150Mbps.
Iliad won 4G-compatible 2.6GHz spectrum in a government auction in late 2011, paying €271 million for its licenses, but missed out on the more valuable 800MHz airwaves a few weeks later.
Using 2.6GHz spectrum to serve non-urban areas would drive up the cost of deployment because wireless signals do not travel as far in higher frequency bands, forcing operators to install more base stations if they want to achieve the same coverage objectives.