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Free, 25 years of saga: how telecoms’ Tom Thumb shook up the sector

An industrious trip to Silicon Valley yielded nothing. Surrounded by his close collaborators, Xavier Neal hoped to find funds from California technology companies to produce the Internet set-top box he had been dreaming of for months. The box does not exist even across the Atlantic. The day before returning to Paris on the imposing escalator at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, where a small group is taking a day off, the Iliad boss says to his colleagues: “What if we made it ourselves, this box? You just need to find competent guys and soldering irons…” Free’s fate was decided that summer, in 2000.

It’s been a year since Xavier Niel founded Free, a subsidiary of the French group Iliad created eight years earlier, to embark on a telecommunications adventure. On February 18, 1999 – just twenty-five years ago this Sunday – a young thirty-year-old, like other small operators, rolled out an offer of free and unlimited low-speed Internet access. At this time, you will have to plug the modem into the telephone socket, wait for the number to dial before you have a thin line of communication. But the computer genius is already thinking about the next step, where ADSL will allow Internet users to connect at high speeds.

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Source: Le Parisien

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