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Free bounces back as Niel takes hands-on role

French service provider Iliad Telecom/Free’s full-year numbers for 2019 saw it bounce back in revenue terms with a return to growth. Founder and leading shareholder Xavier Niel is meanwhile to resume an active management role within the company as president of its administrative board.

Free grew its domestic French revenues by 3% to end the year on €4.912 billion, with mobile contributing most of the growth. Overall revenues were up 9% at €5.332 billion.

EBITDAal for France was up 5.5% to €1.906 billion. However, the group’s investment in its Italian operation meant that overall EBITDAal was down 5.8% at €1.653 billion.

Free’s French mobile subscriber base was down 1%, with the higher value Free 4G Illimitée base growing by 5.1%. Fixed subscribers numbered 6.46 million, up by 0.5%, with fibre customers increasing by 79% to 1.76 million. Free said the rebound in fixed subscribers had been particularly marked in the second half, when it gained 64,000 customers compared with a loss of 31,000 in the first half, leading to a net gain of 33,000 for the year.

Free CEO Thomas Reynaud said that company’s priority was to ensure the health of its employees faced with the Coronavirus epidemic, as well as fulfilling its role in helping the country to continue to function.

Free has also announced a series of management changes that will notably see 71% shareholder Niel return to a management role as president of the administrative board, with Maxime Lombardini serving as vice-president. Former Neuf Cegetel CEO Jacques Veyrat and Leetchi Group supervisory board president Céline Lazorthes have also been nominated to the board, with Corinne Vigreux, Pierre Pringuet and Marie-Christine Levet departing.

Shahrzad Sharvan has been named as secretary-general of the group.