Two of France's largest mobile operators have signed a deal to share each other's networks.
Bouygues Telecom and SFR announced on Friday that they will share their existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks in non-urban areas, and will create a joint venture to manage their shared base stations and other network infrastructure.
The joint venture should be up and running from 2017, and will be in charge of a mobile network covering 57 percent of the French population. SFR and Bouygues will remain in charge of their own separate mobile networks in the 32 of France's urban areas.
The deal will mean Bouygues and SFR can "improve their mobile coverage and generate significant savings", according to the two companies. No further details on the level of savings were given.
"Each operator will retain its own innovation capacity, as well as complete commercial and pricing independence, and will carry on offering distinctive services thanks to continued control over their network backbone and frequencies," the companies said.
Talks over a potential network-sharing deal began in July last year, and were pitched by the companies as a way of helping speed up the rollout of France's 4G networks, and helping both carriers deal with "profound changes in the mobile market" — a reference to the recent arrival of upstart Free.
SFR, France's second largest carrier, has 21 million mobile customers, while third-placed Bouygues has 11.1 million.