* Free press conference on Tuesday at 0730 GMT
* Free Mobile has pledged to deeply cut prices
PARIS Jan 9 France's Iliad is
expected to announce details on Tuesday of its long-awaited
mobile service, which will intensify price competition in
Europe's third-largest telecom market.
Iliad, which markets its offers under the Free brand name,
has pledged to halve mobile prices and simplify offers by
eliminating long contracts and phone subsidies.
Larger rivals France Telecom, Vivendi's SFR
and Bouygues Telecom cut prices last year and
have launched all-inclusive bundles of mobile and fixed calls,
broadband and TV to blunt Free's arrival.
The moves have weighed on their profit margins, and analysts
predict the pressure will continue once Free has launched and
starts wooing clients.
Speculation over the timing of the Free launch has reached
fever pitch in recent weeks, with many observers having expected
it before the Christmas sales season.
Free's iconoclastic founder, Xavier Niel, fuelled the rumour
mill when he issued his first tweet on December 13, saying: "The
Rocket is on the launch pad."
Since then, the Twitter microblogging site has been rife
with rumours, ably perpetuated by a series of jokey leaks from
Free that have kept its client base of tech-savvy geeks in a
state of near-breathless anticipation.
A website (mobile.free.fr/) recently appeared with a
photograph of a rocket on a launch pad, followed by another with
an old-school drawing of a rocket hiding a coded message in an
old computer language, ASCII (live.free.fr/).
Iliad's shares have largely outperformed the other French
telecom operators since it won the licence to launch a mobile
service in early 2010.
Attracted by growth prospects and strong profits in the
fixed telecom and broadband business, investors have lifted
Iliad shares more than 11 percent in the past two years.
Over the same period, France Telecom shares have fallen more
than 30 percent and Vivendi's 20 percent.
(Reporting by Leila Abboud; Editing by David Hulmes)