Iliad the telecommunications company behind Free, just unveiled a new Freebox at a press conference in his office. This is a fairly significant news for French start-ups: the French billionaire Xavier Niel is also a junior investor with Kima Ventures owner of Station F and creator of a school called 42 .
When Free unveiled the first Freebox in 2002, he was the first French Internet service provider to offer a triple play service with DSL Internet, unlimited calls to French phones and TV for 34 dollars a month (29.99 euros).
But things have changed dramatically since. OTT services, such as Netflix or Molotov, as well as Apple's or Android-powered media players, compete directly with these boxes.
Free is now at a turning point. It has been losing its subscribers for a year and its shares have lost about 40% in just one year.
In other words, Xavier Niel needs this Freebox to attract new subscribers, increase average revenue per user and prove that you can compete with traditional telecommunication companies by leveraging technology.
The result is the Delta Freebox a compilation of many different technologies within a single offering. It literally looks like a delta and features Devialet speakers, Sigfox connectivity, Amazon Alexa, ZigBee connectivity for connected objects and more.
"It would cost thousands of euros, but we make it accessible," said Niel.
By choosing a high-end positioning, Free must prove that he cares about his network. You can now get up to 10 Gbps using a fiber optic connection and the new Freebox – you are then limited to Gigabit Ethernet ports.
"We believe that fiber optics is the technology you need and the technology we need," Niel said.
But if you live in the countryside, the Freebox now perfectly combines DSL with a 4G LTE connection, which gives us a glimpse of the future of 5G around the corner.
From a simple modem to a home concentrator
The modem part of the package comes with a 1TB hard drive. You can set up up to 4 hard drives and use RAID to create a very small NAS with your Freebox. It comes with two Powerline Network Adapters that you can plug into your modem with the help of a single USB-C cable – the adapter serves as a power block.
The set-top box part is a 4K HDR multimedia box with a home operating system. More importantly, it's also a Devialet loudspeaker. Devialet works on high-end speakers with a simple goal: zero background noise, zero saturation and zero distortion. These speakers cost a small fortune.
Niel is an investor in the French start-up. That's why it makes sense to integrate Devialet's algorithms and chipsets into the Freebox. There are 6 speakers and it should replace the sound bar of your TV quite easily.
You can stream music via WiFi (AirPlay), Bluetooth and Spotify Connect. If you want something else, there are also Deezer, Qobuz, YouTube, Dailymotion and Twitch apps – but you will need to turn on the TV to access them.
The Delta Freebox also serves as a voice assistant. There is a hardware switch to activate the microphones. You can then use a home assistant called "Ok Freebox" to control the device. And you can use Amazon Alexa for more complex queries.
The integration of two voice assistants did not impress me. This will confuse many people who are going to say "Alexa, turn on Arte" instead of "Ok Freebox, Turn on Arte". The TV interface has also been redesigned and looks a lot like Molotov .
Subscribers benefit from the cheapest Netflix subscription level for free and can upgrade for an additional charge of 3 or 6 € per month. The basic channels of the channel are included. Subscriptions to newspapers and magazines are included via LeKiosk.
Freebox of Things
With the new device, Free bet on connected objects. The Delta Freebox is connected to the Sigfox network and can control ZigBee objects, such as Philips Hue lights and Somfy blinds.
New subscribers have many sensors to start with. You get a connected camera, a door sensor, a motion detector and a tiny remote control. You can buy more accessories in the future. Your Freebox can then alert you if an error occurs in the Freebox application.
More interesting still, the Freebox comes with two remote controls: a classic remote control and a remote control with touch screen. The interface of the smart remote control changes depending on what you do, which reminds me a lot Prizm. And it turns out that the team behind Prizm has joined the company, according to a source. But they have not yet had the time to work a lot on that.
Free has suffered a lot from the competition. After selling cheaper to everyone, competitors have caught up and are now offering similar services at about the same price.
To differentiate his offer, Free va prime.
Orange has always attracted premium subscribers thanks to heavy network investments and premium pricing. Free wants to join Orange in this segment and leave behind Bouygues Telecom and SFR.
Free also launches a new, cheaper Freebox, the Freebox One . But it is clear that the company wants to talk about its flagship offer. The subscription to the next level costs 50 € per month and the company wants you to pay for the device.
Instead of lending you a Delta Freebox, it will cost you $ 10 a month for 48 months. You can keep it forever. Niel hinted at bigger ambitions. Finally, the company wants to sell the Freebox Delta to consumers in other countries, even if they can not subscribe to Free.
Overall, the new Freebox looks like a melting pot of technology (a bowl of Chocapic, say French readers). Only Free knows the ecosystem of startups so well to bring all these technologies together.
Let's see now if Free has what it takes to become a full-fledged consumer electronics company. It's an ambitious bet.