Bouygues Telecom claimed to have seen off competition from rivals to capture the biggest share of new customers in the French mobile market during the past 18 months.
The operator has become a standout performer for parent company Bouygues, reporting a higher rate of sales growth than the conglomerate's large construction business and helping Bouygues swing from a net loss of €28 million ($33 million) in the first half of 2016 to a net profit of €240 million ($284 million) for the first six months of this year.
First-half telecom revenues were up 6.2%, to about €2.4 billion ($2.8 billion), compared with the year-earlier period, while earnings (before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) rose by a third, to €547 million ($648 million). Bouygues group sales rose 3% to about €15.2 billion ($18 billion).
Shares in Bouygues were trading up nearly 2% in Paris at the time of publication.
The earnings report reveals that Bouygues Telecom added another 645,000 mobile connections between January and June this year, giving it more than 13.6 million altogether.
Although it lost 104,000 prepaid customers, it picked up 749,000 on the more lucrative contract side of the business, which now accounts for 94% of the entire mobile subscriber base.
While most of the growth in postpaid connections came from its machine-to-machine communications (M2M) business, Bouygues still gained 240,000 contract subscriptions after the M2M numbers were stripped out.
Those numbers look even better when compared with market leader Orange (NYSE: FTE), which, despite its addition of 184,000 contract connections, saw its mobile customer base shed 55,000 connections in the first half of 2017 due to the decline at its prepaid business. At the end of June, it had around 21.6 million connections in total.
Owned by European cable group Altice, number-two player Numericable-SFR captured more than 135,000 mobile connections over the first six months but would have lost about 114,000 were it not for growth at its machine-to-machine communications division.
The other recent high flyer has been Iliad, whose aggressive entry into the French mobile market in early 2012 using the Free brand caused several quarters of turmoil for the longer-established players.
Yet to report figures for the April-to-June quarter, Iliad (Euronext: ILD) added 240,000 mobile subscribers in the first three months of this year alone.
All four operators have also been investing in higher-speed fixed-line broadband networks in part to support the growing popularity of "converged" offerings that bundle fixed and mobile services in a single package.
Such fiber infrastructure could become increasingly important in providing the backhaul infrastructure to support higher-speed mobile network technologies, particularly as 5G services come online.
Bouygues Telecom said its fiber-to-the-home network covered 16 million premises at the end of June, up from 9 million a year earlier, and boasted 552,000 "very high speed" customers. At the end of June, it had about 3.23 million fixed customers in total, 4% more than at the end of 2016.
While different operator categorizations make comparisons much harder in the fixed-line market, the Bouygues performance seemed to rank it ahead of Iliad, which gained 66,000 new broadband customers in the first half to give it 6.45 million overall.
But it left Bouygues trailing Orange, which added 146,000 broadband customers in the first six months of the year and had more than 11 million at the end of June.
A decline at its ADSL business meant that Numericable-SFR lost more than 50,000 broadband customers over the same period. The Altice subsidiary served a total of 6.06 million broadband subscribers at the end of June.
According to data from the European Commission, France had nearly 29 million households at the end of 2015.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading