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Consumer group hits Orange, SFR with 4G rollout complaint

France Telecom-Orange Chairman and CEO Stephane Richard poses before a news conference to launch the Orange 4G network in Paris September 9,
France Telecom-Orange Chairman and CEO Stephane Richard poses before a news conference to launch the Orange 4G network in Paris September 9,

PARIS (Reuters) - France's consumer watchdog, UFC Que Choisir, said on Tuesday it had filed a legal complaint against mobile phone operators Orange France and Vivendi-owned SFR over marketing practices of their fourth-generation broadband services.

France's two biggest telecommunications firms, as well as third-largest operator Bouygues, are racing to build fourth-generation mobile networks and sign up customers to new offers featuring five-times faster mobile Internet speeds.

Tests conducted during October 3-17 on the streets of Paris showed a discrepancy between the 4G coverage that Orange France and SFR claim to have in the capital and the access consumers really get to the 4G networks, the French consumer body said.

Orange's 4G network was available in 79.3 percent of Paris, compared with a 100 percent promise, while SFR covered 74.6 percent. Bouygues came close to matching its 100 percent claim with 99.4 percent coverage, the UFC Que Choisir report said.

Orange said it was "surprised" by the watchdog's comments, saying that it was meeting its commitments in terms of coverage and confirming it was currently the only operator to offer the maximum speed on its network.

Orange also said it systematically made the distinction between its H+ and 4G networks, as well as their associated speeds.

SFR said in an e-mail that it had announced in August that it was aiming for 100 percent coverage by the end of the year.

The consumer group is also asking French telecom regulator ARCEP to set up a body to monitor in real time the roll-out of 4G networks and guarantee the claims made by the operators on coverage and speed.

ARCEP said it was examining the situation in terms of quality and coverage, and that it was working on a procedure for checking 4G coverage zones, with tests on the ground due to start in the first half of 2014.

Bouygues could not be immediately reached for comment.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Gwenaelle Barzic; Editing by Leigh Thomas, Louise Heavens and David Evans)

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