French telco added 645,000 new mobile customers in six months, but M2M proved a key growth driver.

Bouygues Telecom claims to be leading the French market when it comes to adding new mobile customers, a crown that rival Free Mobile has worn for the past umpteen quarters, but M2M clearly accounted for a substantial portion of its growth.

The announcement came as the French operator, owned by conglomerate Bouygues, posted a solid set of first-half financials, reporting revenue and earnings growth for the six months to the end of June.

"Bouygues Telecom is France’s leading operator in terms of mobile recruitment for the period between January 2016 and June 2017," the telco said, citing reported figures from its rivals and its own estimates for Q2.

Some quick maths shows that it could well be right, depending how you do the calculations.

The telco had a mobile customer base of 13.64 million at mid-year, having added 645,000 new customers in the first six months of the year. It added 1.11 million customers last year, giving it average net adds of close to 292,000 for the six quarters.

Iliad-owned Free Mobile, which in its last results statement declared itself "France’s leading recruiter of mobile subscribers for the 21st consecutive quarter," has yet to report April-June figures, but averaged around 248,000 customers per quarter for the five quarters to the end of March. It is due to publish its next set of financials on Friday.

However, unlike Free Mobile, Bouygues Telecom’s figures include machine-to-machine (M2M) connections. It did not specify exactly how many, but said mobile phone contract customers now exceed 10 million, thanks to 240,000 new additions in 1H, including 110,000 in Q2. The company also has fewer than 1 million prepaid customers, and reported a slight decline in Q2, therefore M2M net adds come in at above the 400,000 mark in 1H.

The telco boosted its fixed base by 133,000 to 3.23 million in the first half of the year and confirmed that it still aims to add 1 million fixed customers by the end of 2017, compared with end-2014. A look at its historic figures show it is almost there, but will need to turn in a strong second-half performance. Bouygues Telecom reported 2.43 million fixed customers at the end of 2014 and needs to sign up 194,000 in the second half of this year to reach its target.

Bouygues Telecom posted revenues of €2.43 billion in the first half of 2017, up by 6% on the same period a year ago.

EBITDA grew by €139 million to €547 million, giving a 26.2% margin, and the telco posted an operating profit of €210 million, compared with a €5 million loss in 1H 2016.

Its free cash flow improved to a negative €19 million from -€69 million.

The company confirmed its target of an EBITDA margin slightly above 25% for the full year and €300 million in free cash flow in three years’ time.