TechnomadicsVagabonding Europe

Bad news in France: The mobile broadband market here is very un-competitive — the French are very behind the times when it comes to 3G. Lame, France.

I’m amazed that telcos are allowed to use the word ‘unlimited’ (or rather, illimité), when the quotas behind the scenes are not only present, but so restrictive. Where are the consumer protection organisations in all this?

I hear that a French address may be required to buy a PAYG sim card, at least with Orange, and possibly with other carriers. Not sure how to get around that one — some people (like this person) have bought SIM cards on first.

I think Auchan have the least worst option, although it is quite poor. Anyway, the options, such as they are:


Auchan offer a mobile internet service, sans engagement: €20 for the SIM card including 5 hrs use/250 Mb) or €30 for a modem too (2 hrs/250 Mb included), then €30 gets you a month of access with a 2 GB quota.

It is unclear on whether VoIP is allowed: There is a notice saying it is prohibited underneath the hourly recharge options (presumably including the time included with the starter kits), but nothing underneath the monthly options. This may be careless copywriting, or VoIP may actually be allowed with the monthly options.

The monthly options are described as ‘un compte bloqué’ (a locked account), which may mean they’re only available when you buy the locked modem. I’m awaiting clarification from their sales team.


Orange offer pre-paid mobile broadband, but the available offers are appalling. Orange limit use by time, and the most one can buy is 4 hours for — wait for it — €20. Ouch.

The only other option I could find is to get a ‘Mobicarte‘ SIM card for €15, then equip it with the ‘Internet Max‘ option which for €12/month gets you “unlimited” Internet access which is really a 500 Mb quota (shaped after), with no email included (they presumably do deep packet inspection, identifying IMAP/POP/SMTP traffic and charging it separately), VoIP prohibited, and use on a computer (with a modem) prohibited. Unlimited indeed. While they offer a slightly less horrendous offer to iPhone users, it apparently isn’t available to Mobicarte customers.


SFR have an ‘SFR La Carte‘ offer, €15 for a SIM card, then customers with an iPhone can recharge with an option which gives ‘unlimited’ Internet access for a certain number of days, e.g. 20 days for €20. The small print says what you actually get is 500 Mb quota (shaped after), no VoIP or modem/computer use.

The only other option with SFR is their Pass Internet 3G+ which, like Orange, offers time-limited ‘passes’, at outrageous prices: €26 for 8 hours, €40 for 15 hours. Wow. This may also require you to buy a modem from them.


Bouygues offer a pre-paid SIM card for €15, then you can select an internet access offer which costs €2 per day for 10 Mb, and €8 for the day if you exceed 10 Mb (lasts until midnight). VoIP and modem use aren’t allowed.

Local broadband countries

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5 Responses to Mobile Broadband in France

  1. L. Wolfe says:

    Thank you for this great post!

    I’m travelling to france in less than 2 weeks and have been looking for an easy solution to getting a pre-paid data plan on my iPhone.

    My girlfriend is French and I lived in Lyon for nearly a year before returning to England, unfortunately I’ve been worrying about this so that we can have more freedom.

    Thanks for breaking it down!

    If you have any more tips/advice about using an iPhone in france then please e-mail me : D


  2. Golffies says:

    Regarding the meaning for “un compte bloqué”, it reads more as “capped account” than “locked account”. It has nothing to do with bundled SIM + modem or some kind of simlocking. It means that customer cannot be required to pay more than a monthly flat-rate, access to network being denied as soon as monthly cumulated usage reaches predefined upper limit. Cannot spend more money and cannot use further service. Have to wait for next month to come.

    Regarding Mobicarte + Internet Max terms in 2010, traffic nowadays gets shaped after the first GB/month got burnt, not 500MB anymore.

  3. Madeline says:

    This post was really helpful – I didn’t realize until reading this that SFR (and others) didn’t allow VoIP in their pre-paid/no-contract data service packages. I went and re-read their fine-print documents and low and behold, no “voix de IP” included. Unfortunately that’s exactly what I need to access Skype on my iPad while in France. Do you have any update on this information for any French provider? It appears that Virgin Mobile allows VoIP (for a price of 0.01euro/10Kb). Either way, thanks for the post – I would have been SOL without it!

    • Michael says:

      Hey Madeline – Their fine print is indeed very, very unfortunate! I’ve been meaning to update this, as we’re in France now, but after having a quick look around I can’t see anything really different.

      One thing of note is that SFR now have an “unlimited” plan, but it’s actually only 2Gb (shaped to 128k after), and the no VoIP stuff still applies.

      We’re getting by with this great contraption instead.

      C’mon France, the stone age is over!

  4. Roger says:

    Try for French PAYG 3G Sims and top ups.