Xavier Niel unveils new Freebox with Alexa, Devialet, Sigfox, Netflix

Iliad, the telecom firm behind Free, simply unveiled a brand new Freebox at a press convention in its workplace. That is considerably vital information for French startups as French billionaire Xavier Niel can also be a startup investor by Kima Ventures, the proprietor of Station F and the creator of a faculty referred to as 42.

When Free unveiled the primary Freebox again in 2002, it was the primary French web service supplier to supply a triple play service with DSL web, limitless calls to French landline telephones and tv for $34 per thirty days (€29.99).

However issues have modified drastically since then. OTT providers, corresponding to Netflix or Molotov, in addition to multimedia gamers from Apple or working Android are competing immediately with these containers.

Free is now at a turning level. It has been relentlessly shedding subscribers for the previous 12 months and its shares have been down round 40 p.c in only a 12 months.

In different phrases, Xavier Niel wants this Freebox to be successful to draw new subscribers, improve the typical income per person and show which you can compete with conventional telecom corporations by leveraging know-how.

The result’s the Freebox Delta, a compilation of many alternative applied sciences right into a single providing. It actually seems to be like a delta and options Devialet audio system, Sigfox connectivity, Amazon Alexa, ZigBee connectivity for linked objects and extra.

“All of this is able to price 1000’s of euros however we’re making it accessible,” Niel mentioned.

By selecting a premium positioning, Free must show that it cares about its community. Now you can get as a lot as 10 Gbit/s utilizing a fiber connection and the brand new Freebox — you’re then restricted to Gigabit Ethernet ports although.

“We predict that optical fiber is the know-how you want and the know-how we want,” Niel mentioned.

However if you happen to dwell within the countryside, the Freebox now seamlessly aggregates DSL with a 4G LTE connection, which provides us a glimpse on the 5G future across the nook.

From a easy modem to a house hub

The modem a part of the package deal comes with a 1TB arduous drive. You possibly can put as much as four arduous drives and use RAID to create a tiny little NAS along with your Freebox. It comes with two powerline community adapters which you can plug to your modem utilizing a single USB-C cable — the adapter acts as the ability brick.

The set-top field half is a 4K HDR multimedia field with a selfmade working system. Extra importantly, additionally it is a Devialet speaker. Devialet has been engaged on high-end audio system with a easy purpose — zero background noise, zero saturation and nil distorsion. These audio system price a tiny fortune.

Niel is an investor within the French startup, that’s why it is smart to combine Devialet’s algorithms and chipsets into the Freebox. There are 6 audio system and it ought to substitute your TV sound bar fairly simply.

You possibly can stream music utilizing WiFi (AirPlay), Bluetooth and Spotify Join. If you need one thing else, there are Deezer, Qobuz, YouTube, Dailymotion and Twitch apps as properly — however you’ll have to activate the TV to entry these.

The Freebox Delta additionally acts as a voice assistant. There’s a {hardware} change to allow the microphones. You possibly can then use a selfmade assistant referred to as “Okay Freebox” to regulate the machine. And you should utilize Amazon Alexa for extra difficult queries.

I wasn’t impressed by the combination of two voice assistants. It’s going to confuse lots of people who’re going to say “Alexa, activate Arte” as a substitute of “Okay Freebox, activate Arte”. The TV interface has additionally been redesigned and now seems to be loads like Molotov.

Subscribers get the most affordable Netflix subscription tier without cost and might improve for an additional €three or €6 per thirty days. Fundamental Canal channels are included. Newspaper and journal subscriptions are included by LeKiosk.

Freebox of issues

With the brand new machine, Free is betting on linked objects. The Freebox Delta is linked to the Sigfox community and might management ZigBee objects, corresponding to Philips Hue lights and Somfy blinds.

New subscribers get a bunch of sensors to get began. You get a linked digital camera, a door sensor, a movement detector and a tiny distant. You should buy extra equipment sooner or later. Your Freebox can then provide you with a warning if there’s something fallacious within the Freebox app.

Extra curiously, the Freebox comes with two remotes — a basic distant and a distant with a touchscreen. The interface of the good distant adjustments relying on what you do, which jogs my memory a variety of Prizm. And it seems that the workforce behind Prizm joined the corporate, in keeping with a supply. However they haven’t had time to work a lot on that but.

Going premium

Free has suffered loads from competitors. After undercutting everybody, opponents have caught up and now provide comparable providers for across the identical worth.

As a way to differentiate its providing, Free goes premium.

Orange has at all times attracted premium subscribers because of heavy community investments and premium pricing. Free needs to hitch Orange on this phase and depart Bouygues Telecom and SFR behind.

Free can also be launching a brand new, cheaper Freebox at the moment, the Freebox One. But it surely’s clear that the corporate needs to speak about its flagship providing. It prices €50 per thirty days to subscribe to the highest tier, and the corporate needs you to pay for the machine.

As a substitute of lending you a Freebox Delta, it prices €10 per thirty days over 48 months. You possibly can then hold it ceaselessly. Niel hinted at larger ambitions. Ultimately, the corporate needs to promote the Freebox Delta to customers in different international locations, even when they’ll’t subscribe to Free.

Total, the brand new Freebox seems like a melting pot of applied sciences (a bowl of Chocapic, as French readers would say). Solely Free is aware of the startup ecosystem so properly to place all of these applied sciences collectively.

Now, let’s see if Free has what it takes to grow to be a full-fledged client electronics firm. It’s an formidable wager.

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