Setics CEO, Richard Toper, who is closely involved in executing France’s broadband plan, explains how national and local support and smart solutions are successfully boosting rollout

Across France, networks are being redesigned for the 21st century. Traditional phone and cable networks simply can’t provide the bandwidth people need, as they expect to be connected 24/7. Fibre is a ‘must’ for providing broadband in a consistent way. Wireless can be part of the solution, but only if there’s cabling up to the furthest point possible in the network. Not only does the quality of wireless signal vary as you move around, but it’s also shared between all users in a certain spot.

In many – if not all – countries, urban regions are offered fibre first and rural areas see FTTH appear very slowly or not at all. In many European countries, such as Sweden or the UK, this has resulted in local initiatives. Overall, Europe has been slow in investing for the future. This is partly due the number of pressing issues, such as economic downturn, pressure on pension funds, healthcare, safety and more. However, improving existing networks simply won’t suffice. Running fibre up to coaxial and copper networks is a temporary fix, which won’t be able to keep up with current and future demand. In China, by contrast, they’ve been investing huge sums in fibre.  


Different regions, different strategies 

In France, there is a consensus that everyone should have access to the same facilities and services. Each house, everywhere in the country, should have water, electricity, gas and phone lines of the same quality, at the same price. “Plan France Très Haut Débit” , the national plan for broadband access, is unique in Europe and fits in with our country’s long-standing infrastructure planning tradition. The end goal is getting FTTH everywhere but, as an intermediate target, 80% of homes should be passed by 2022. Other technologies, such as satellite links, will provide access to the remainder.

In France, there are 36,600 municipalities, governed by local authorities. In about 100 of these, population is very dense and no EU funding support or other public money is allowed to go into infrastructure – the market takes care of this. In large sections of Paris, for example, you can get four fibres in your business or dwelling unit. In 3,500 communities, mainly suburbs and medium size cities, one unique fibre is run to every home, which can be used by different operators. No public money is involved, the operators make an agreement (AMII, or Appel à manifestation d’intérêt d’investissement) to roll out fibre across the area according to a plan.

However, active operators such as Orange and Altice/SFR are not likely to adopt this approach in other regions, the remaining 33000 municipalities, where profit might never outweigh the costs of building and maintaining a high-speed network. For these rural areas, EU and public funding is available, if certain technology guidelines are adhered to, along with private investments. Until a few years ago, telecommunications for each region in France was fully organized from Paris, but now, regions and départements make their own decisions, within the frame designed by Mission Très Haut Débit, a department of French Ministry of Industry. SETICS helps them develop wholesale networks, which are open to ISPs who provide residential and professional connections. 


Great success

So far, the first networks  rolled out have been a great success, in penetration as well as uptake. In fact, first-year penetration hit 35% – significantly higher than the 10% forecast. People in rural areas can now enjoy all the benefits of the modern world, from triple-play packages to digital tuition support for schoolchildren. Also, as research in the USA has shown, connected homes command a premium price. For the telcos there are clear benefits, too: if they carry out the project well, it will be commercially successful because the demand is definitely there. Personally, I believe that with today’s unrest in the world, anything that brings people together and helps them communicate is a good thing.

French people consider Plan France THD a positive, important development. It has been interesting to see completely different political parties agree on the necessity to invest in fibre. French telecom regulator Arcep has asked us to benchmark FTTH networks and rural rollouts in different countries, to discover how the French approach compares to projects in other nations and uncover best practices. I believe our approach could also work in other countries, if the political will and consensus can be organized. That may require educating authorities who have decades of experience in traditional utilities and legislation, but for whom fibre and marketing networks is a new area. Community involvement is also vital to success.

You also need to get enough subscribers to sign up as early as possible. Once you know potential users’ wishes, you can build a business case and organise funding. Word to mouth is very efficient for promoting what you have to offer and helps keep acquisitions costs down! If a family has access to a few great services, they will definitely tell everyone about it, which boosts demand, as seen in Scandinavia. 

Deployment of fast broadband will enable local authorities to introduce effective and efficient public services and develop their regions. Fibre isn’t a luxury; it’s a prerequisite for living in the 21st century. I’m a grandfather – if I want my grandkids to visit, I’ll have to be able to offer them decent data speeds!


Plan France Très Haut Débit 

Over the next ten years, the ‘Plan France Très Haut Débit’, launched in 2013, aims to ensure the entire country is covered with very high-speed broadband. Approximately 25 million homes (80%), will be equipped with FTTH by 2022. Over €20 billion will be invested in the deployment of ultrafast broadband in France within ten years, aiming at covering 100% of the territory by 2022. The Plan is expected to bring 20,000 jobs as a direct result of new infrastructure deployment over the next 10 years.

Operators and manufacturers are actively contributing to harmonization work and have organized and structured their work in different groups, such as Objectif Fibre, Interop’Fibre, CREDO, and institutions, including FIRIP. This mobilisation creates confidence and helps convince more and more financial institutions to invest. 

About Richard Toper

Richard has been active in telecoms for 40 years. In the 80s, he worked with Nokia/Alcatel on the first generation of FTTH Networks and saw competition between operators develop. In 2002, Richard founded Setics, one of France’s main independent consulting firms dedicated to digital infrastructures and telecommunications. The company has offices in Paris and Cologne, offers support for network and telecommunications projects and is also developing and selling FTTH network advanced design software (