Orange is promising 100 per cent fibre deployment in nine new French cities by the end of 2016 and plans to start offering gigabit speeds to all fibre customers from the end of this month.
The announcement puts some flesh on the bones of the operator’s recent Essentials2020 strategy, which will see Orange spend €4.5 billion on fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) over the next few years (see Fibre features prominently in Orange’s €15B investment plan). Of that investment, €3 billion has been earmarked for fibre broadband expansion in France.
Orange’s plan is to go from 4 million connectable households in April 2015 to 12 million in 2018, and 20 million in 2022, the final year of France's very high-speed broadband plan. Orange, which has already deployed its network in over 530 French communes (nearly 400 of which are located outside dense areas), plans to increase fibre coverage to 3600 communes by 2022. This programme covers all of France's large and medium-sized cities, or nearly 60% of French households.
Orange is aiming for complete fibre coverage in the nine new cities by the end of 2016. Bayonne, Brest, Caen, Lyon, Lille, Metz, Montpellier, Nice and Paris will become “100% Fibre” cities. Paris will become the first European capital city to become 100 per cent fibred, the operator claims.
From May 2015, in all towns and cities offering 100 per cent fibre coverage or in areas where fibre has already been installed, Orange will systematically offer eligible new customers access to a fibre offer and an upgrade to all existing broadband customers. In cities with 100 per cent fibre coverage, new customers will only be able to choose fibre services.
Orange has also taken the opportunity to launch a new product: 100% Fibre Orange. The name has been chosen to distinguish the telco’s offering from those of its main competitor, cable operator Numericable, which are built with a fibre-to-the-last-amplifier (FTTLA) architecture that typically reaches the foot of the building, but not behind the customer’s front door.
The roll out builds on Orange’s experience with a pilot project in Palaiseau, a town with a population of about 30,000 (16,000 households) to the south of Paris. Orange used this location to test the practical procedures for switching customers from the copper network to a FTTH network.
In October 2013, one year after the launch of the experiment, Orange reported that three quarters of residential internet customers in Palaiseau had opted for the FTTH service. Orange has since stopped selling offers on copper to fibre-coupled Palaiseau addresses. However, the operator has been unable to switch off the copper network in 2013 as it originally intended, because other service providers are still using it.
Nevertheless, Orange’s enthusiasm for FTTH is partly explained by the consumer behaviour it has observed in Palaiseau. The average Internet usage of Orange fibre customers increased significantly, with data downloads tripled and uploads multiplied by a factor of eight. Orange also found that use of catch-up TV services increased by a factor of seven, with three times as many customers choosing pay TV packages.