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 report, we analyze for you the performance of the four French operators in terms of coverage and speed.
How to choose a mobile phone operator? Customers who have already experienced problems with their operator’s after-sales service know it: it can quickly become hell. In this file, we give you the keys to choose your network according to the quality of the service to avoid as much as possible unpleasant surprises. We also suggest that you read our comparison of mobile plans if you are looking above all for the lowest prices.
Orange, Free, SFR, Bouygues: who has the best mobile coverage?
Arcep (Electronic Communications Regulatory Authority) and ANFR (National Frequencies Agency) regularly publish reports on the progress of the deployment of the mobile network in France.
Commercial offers from operators are starting to land, 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, 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 is nevertheless deploying a growing number of 3500 MHz sites capable of delivering more speed.
In addition, Orange is the best operator in terms of number of 3500 MHz sites, followed in order by Free Mobile, Bouygues and SFR, the latter having to date the deployment of the least advanced 5G network 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 3500 MHz sites, 6273 700 MHz sites
- Orange : 711 3500 MHz sites, 953 700/2100 MHz sites
- Bouygues Telecom : 275 3500 MHz sites, 1885 700/2100 MHz sites
- SFR : 198 3500 MHz sites, 869 700/2100 MHz sites
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, compared to 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 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 compared to the population. If we are more interested in the surface – for example to avoid being in “white areas” without a network – Bouygues Telecom is slightly behind with 93% coverage, against 97% for Free and SFR and 98% for Orange .
Which operator is the champion of speeds?
nPerf regularly publishes debit rankings on which we have relied. Here are the latest nPerf scores of 2020 for 2G / 3G / 4G / 5G networks;
Orange was ranked first best mobile internet network in 2020 by nPerf. In terms of mobile internet, it is above the competition even if Free Mobile is now close behind it. Orange thus has:
- Best downstream speed: 49.23 Mb / s (against 47.49 Mb / s during the previous measurement)
- Best upstream speed: 9.72 Mb / s (compared to 10.94 Mb / s)
- One of the best latency times: 39.64ms (vs. 50.44ms)
- Best performance index in navigation: 71.21% (against 68.59%)
- Best streaming performance index: 78.90% (vs. 84.74%)
2. Free Mobile
Free Mobile has made good progress in a short time, from the bottom of the ranking to second place for the best mobile operator in France.
3. Bouygues Telecom
Bouygues is often ranked second for the quality of its network and speeds. However, it must recently give way to Free Mobile. According to nPerf, the operator delivers very similar performance, although qualitatively a notch below.
The operator continues to fall in the nperf ranking, and is now dead last. However, it should be noted that the services of the four operators are extremely close to each other to date.
The situation may be different at your place of residence
Orange is the best operator whether in terms of network coverage (population or area) or speeds. But it should be understood that this is a general finding. Alas you could quite fall on one of the rare zones which is badly or not at all covered by the historical ISP.
Suddenly, to really know if this or that operator is right for you, it is imperative to obtain reliable information on coverage on 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 indicates the quality of the cover with a color code: the darker, the better:
- Very good coverage
- Good coverage
- Limited coverage
So which operator is the best for you?