Iliad, the telecom company behind Free, just unveiled a new Freebox at a press conference in its office. This is somewhat significant news for French startups as French billionaire Xavier Niel is also a startup investor through Kima Ventures, the owner of Station F and the creator of a school called 42.
When Free unveiled the first Freebox back in 2002, it was the first French internet service provider to offer a triple play service with DSL internet, unlimited calls to French landline phones and television for $34 per month (€29.99).
But things have changed drastically since then. OTT services, such as Netflix or Molotov, as well as multimedia players from Apple or running Android, are competing directly with those boxes.
Free is now at a turning point. It has been relentlessly losing subscribers for the past year and its shares have been down around 40 percent in just a year.
In other words, Xavier Niel needs this Freebox to be a success to attract new subscribers, increase the average revenue per user and prove that you can compete with traditional telecom companies by leveraging technology.
The result is the Freebox Delta, a compilation of many different technologies into a single offering. It literally looks like a delta and features Devialet speakers, Sigfox connectivity, Amazon Alexa, ZigBee connectivity for connected objects and more.
“All of this would cost thousands of euros but we’re making it accessible,” Niel said.
By choosing a premium positioning, Free needs to prove that it cares about its network. You can now get as much as 10 Gbit/s using a fiber connection and the new Freebox — you’re then restricted to Gigabit Ethernet ports though.
“We think that optical fiber is the technology you need and the technology we need,” Niel said.
But if you live in the countryside, the Freebox now seamlessly aggregates DSL with a 4G LTE connection, which gives us a glimpse at the 5G future around the corner.
From a simple modem to a home hub
The modem part of the package comes with a 1TB hard drive. You can put up to 4 hard drives and use RAID to create a tiny little NAS with your Freebox. It comes with two powerline network adapters that you can plug into your modem using a single USB-C cable — the adapter acts as the power brick.
The set-top box part is a 4K HDR multimedia box with a homemade operating system. More importantly, it is also a Devialet speaker. Devialet has been working on high-end speakers with a simple goal — zero background noise, zero saturation and zero distortion. Those speakers cost a tiny fortune.
Niel is an investor in the French startup, which is why it makes sense to integrate Devialet’s algorithms and chipsets into the Freebox. There are 6 speakers and it should replace your TV sound bar quite easily.