France helps cross the chasm to mass market fibre

On the eve of the FTTH Council Europe conference, real FTTH competition has arrived. For the first time since the council was created, an incumbent—Orange—is driving the FTTH market and facing competition from powerful alternative carriers. This situation has put the spotlight on Orange (France Telecom) and its competitors as they begin to venture out of the French capital. Strong customer response in France over the coming months could make 2008 a transition year for the industry.

So if FTTH sells in Paris, will it sell in the provinces? Orange thinks so and expects to start massive FTTH roll-outs as early as 2009 in Paris and other cities. The incumbent’s competitors are also optimistic about France’s provincial FTTH markets.

However, France has had until now a very centralised government and economy. Some 11 million of France’s 64 million inhabitants live in Paris and its suburbs. Greater metropolitan Paris accounts for nearly 30% of France’s economy. The capital is home to France’s priciest neighbourhoods. Companies building FTTH networks in provincial France will face different market conditions and different technical challenges.

The French will likely keep a close eye on the progress of Italy’s FastWeb. The European pioneer (and to date largest FTTH network builder) has reserved FTTH for Italy’s wealthiest cities. FastWeb continues to use DSL in the less wealthy cities and is introducing mobile broadband this year.

Orange and its competitors understand that developing competitive FTTH markets in France’s provincial cities will require network sharing to reduce capital costs and unnecessary civil work. Unlike Paris, most of France’s provincial cities do not have sewers with large tunnels and galleries in which fibre-optic cable can be easily installed. Local governments can help by providing FTTH network builders with strategic rights-of-way and infrastructure for installation of optical cable. Many local French governments have, like their counterparts in Scandinavia, already built open access fibre networks to stimulate competition. ARCEP, France’s telecoms regulator, is actively fostering the network sharing process and is developing a formal plan this year. Hopefully the FTTH Council Europe conference will help spread this momentum to other markets.

Kurt Ruderman
European Editor

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