In 2021, should we choose Orange, Free, SFR or Bouygues instead? Between coverage and speeds, it is not always easy to choose the best operator. In this file, we analyze for you the performance of the four French operators in terms of coverage and speed.
How to choose a good mobile operator? Customers who have already experienced problems with their operator’s after-sales service know this: it can very quickly become hell. In this file, we give you the keys to choose your network according to the quality of service to avoid unpleasant surprises as much as possible. We also suggest that you read our comparison of mobile plans if you are above all looking for the lowest prices.
Orange, Free, SFR, Bouygues: who has the best mobile coverage?
Arcep (Electronic Communications Regulatory Authority) and ANFR (National Frequency Agency) regularly publish reports on the progress of mobile network deployment in France.
Commercial offers from operators are beginning to arrive, but coverage is still limited in France. We note in passing that Free Mobile is a little ahead, even if due to the characteristics of the frequencies authorized for the operator, the deployment is both simpler and qualitatively less interesting for customers. Free Mobile in fact mainly offers 700 MHz access points with speeds that promise to be similar to those of the best 4G. Free Mobile nevertheless deploys a growing number of sites in 3500 MHz capable of delivering more speed.
In addition, Orange is the best operator in number of 3500 MHz sites, followed in order by Free Mobile, Bouygues and SFR, the latter having to date the least advanced 5G network deployment in France.
Also read: 5G – all you need to know about the network of the future
Number of active 5G sites per operator
Another element to measure the quality of a network and the investment efforts of the operators, the number of active sites – in other words the number of places where the operators have activated an antenna. Here is the assessment of the 5G deployment of these authorized sites according to the ANFR:
- free mobile : 410 sites 3500 MHz, 6273 sites 700 MHz
- Orange : 711 sites 3500 MHz, 953 sites 700/2100 MHz
- Bouygues Telecom : 275 sites 3500 MHz, 1885 sites 700/2100 MHz
- SFR : 198 sites 3500 MHz, 869 sites 700/2100 MHz
The 4G network is often the one that most interests users. The network is now very mature with developments such as 4G+ and 4G++. And the four operators are now neck and neck. Bouygues, Orange and SFR cover 99% of the population, against 97% for Free Mobile.
For 3G, Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom all have a coverage rate of over 99% of the population. Free is 96%. Regarding the surface, we are at 98% for Orange, 96% for SFR and 92% for Bouygues. Free performs a little less well with only 83% coverage.
GSM network (voice and SMS)
For voice and SMS, Orange, SFR, Bouygues and Free all cover at least 99%, at least in relation to the population. If we are more interested in the surface – for example to avoid ending up in “white zones” without a network – Bouygues Telecom lags slightly behind with 93% coverage, compared to 97% for Free and SFR and 98% for Orange .
Which operator is the speed champion?
nPerf regularly publishes speed rankings on which we have based ourselves. Here are the latest nPerf scores of 2020 for 2G/3G/4G/5G networks;
Orange was ranked the best mobile internet network at first in 2020 by nPerf. In terms of mobile internet, it is above the competition even if Free Mobile is now hot on its heels. Orange thus has the:
- Best download speed: 49.23 Mb/s (compared to 47.49 Mb/s during the previous measurement)
- Best upload speed: 9.72 Mb/s (against 10.94 Mb/s)
- One of the best latency times: 39.64 ms (compared to 50.44 ms)
- Best navigation performance index: 71.21% (against 68.59%)
- Best Streaming Performance Index: 78.90% (vs. 84.74%)
In January 2022, Orange was voted the best mobile network in France for upload and download speed according to UFC Que Choisir. The operator displays an average download speed of 61.5 Mb/s. It is well ahead of the competition. On the uplink, the average connection speed is 12.8 Mb/s.
Free Mobile has made great progress in a short time, from the bottom of the rankings to second place for the best mobile operator in France. UFC What-to-Choose confirms in January 2021 the progress of Free, but with more reserve. Xavier Niel’s operator remains below the others on the uphill lane.
3. Bouygues Telecom
Bouygues is often ranked in second place for the quality of its network and its speeds. However, it must recently give way to Free Mobile. The operator delivers very similar performance according to nPerf, although qualitatively a notch below. Certain rankings, in particular those of UFC Que Choisir, place Bouygues Telecom at the back of the pack.
The operator continues to drop in the nperf ranking, and is now dead last. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the services of the four operators are to date extremely close to each other. For UFC Que Choisir, it is quite the opposite, since the consumer association positions SFR in second place both uplink and downlink.
The situation may be different where you live
Orange is the best operator in terms of network coverage (population or area) and speeds. But it must be understood that this is a general statement. Unfortunately, you could very well come across one of the rare areas that is poorly or not at all covered by the historical ISP.
So, to really know if this or that operator is right for you, it is essential to obtain reliable coverage information for your place of residence, work and/or vacation. For this, Arcep offers an interactive map of France.
For a quick search, just type the name of your city in the search bar at the top right. You can then do the manipulation for each operator, to be selected at the bottom right. You can also choose between Voice and SMS and Mobile Internet. In this last section, it is possible to sort by 3G or 4G. The tool then tells you the quality of the coverage with a color code: the darker, the better:
- Very good coverage
- Good coverage
- Limited coverage
So, which carrier is the best for you?