The road to a France connected to fiber looked like a costly project, but not only. Other pitfalls awaited the government and operators. It was therefore necessary to find suitable solutions.
Optical fiber is the promise of high speeds and reduced latency to allow the development of teleworking, distance training, online administration, telemedicine or content platforms, to the digital age, but also to ensure the competitiveness of businesses in a globalized economy. That is the promise on paper. In fact, it’s a bit more complicated.
The ambition: a very high speed for all, a country in the digital age
It all started with the very high speed (THD) plan. Adopted on February 28, 2013 by the government, it aimed to provide very high speed, namely at least 30 Mbit / s, for all French people, whether they live in large, densely populated metropolises or in rural areas. The idea was to make it a universal service just like water and electricity, and to end the digital divide.
The 100% threshold is expected by the end of 2022 thanks to a technological mix including optical fiber, satellite and radio THD, with a proportion of 80% that will have to go through optical fiber. The government plans 100% via optical fiber by 2025. Regarding 100%, Stéphane Richard, the boss of Orange, also estimated that “It’s never going to happen”. Opposite, Cédric O, Secretary of State for Digital, retorted with irony that“We will not pull the fiber to the last rocky outcrop”. Obviously, we will do our best with the reality on the ground.
A sector whipping through thick and thin
For its part, the fiber optic sector has therefore worked hard to be there, despite the budgetary envelopes regularly deemed insufficient and unforeseen events such as the Covid-19 health crisis. Without forgetting the damage, involuntary, but also due in some cases to acts of sabotage.
Against the backdrop of Covid-19, the number of new fiber optic sockets deployed reached 5.8 million in 2020, against 4.9 million in 2019. Proof that operators have not lowered their guard and that they have to On the contrary, they kept their foot on the accelerator, with their sights set on 100% optical fiber for 2025. They even smashed the record for investment in networks last year. Excluding the exceptional item of 2.8 billion for 5G frequencies, 11.5 billion were injected into the networks, or 860 million more than in 2019. As of December 30, 2020, 24.2 million premises were thus eligible for fiber and there were 10.4 million subscriptions to this technology, ie 3.3 million more in one year. The appetite on the user side is palpable.
Hiccups to make consumers, regulators and government jump
But that was without counting the few hiccups in the very deployment of optical fiber, in particular over the last few meters to subscribers, with a high connection failure rate. Having made this project her priority and put pressure on Orange, Free, Bouygues and SFR, Laure de la Raudière, the new presidency of Arcep, has in fact recently deplored the 20 to 30% of connection failures during ‘a recent intervention in Good Morning Business. The situation had already made his predecessor Sébastien Soriano jump, who had indeed pointed the finger at certain subcontractors working “Like pigs”, Talk about “botch job” and invited the sector to “Make the police”. He promised in particular the dereference of black sheep.
In question, the dishes of noodles, these wild wiring at the level of the street cabinets put on the account of a lack of manpower, the lack of training, the high rate and of subcontractors for some unscrupulous . Nicolas Guérin, then president of the French Telecoms Federation, had also tried to temper by stressing that there was “A lot of pressure on the operators and their subcontractors to connect everyone” and that the sector had “Undeniable problems to find technicians, because the schools are not full”.
But the situation also made the government react. Cédric O, Secretary of State for Digital, had deplored a mess in view of the work accomplished. Even the association 60 million consumers had stepped up to denounce “A big bazaar” due to a quantitative objective imposed on operators, without a quality standard.
If the first consumer complaints do not date back to today, the health crisis has indeed highlighted the need to have a good Internet connection, whether for work, training, information, communication and to have fun. Hence a higher requirement and an increase in complaints in 2020.
Bible, PMZ of the future, increased surveillance and operation “DESTOCK” to put an end to it
Finding themselves in the sights of the government, the telecoms regulator and consumer associations, operators had to find solutions. Especially with as a parameter a closure of the copper network scheduled for 2030. Yes, one more parameter in the equation.
After the words, it’s time for concrete solutions. The fiber optic sector has thus designed an operational guide aimed at “To guarantee a quality installation” at first sight in French households. Announced in a paper and digital version, this sort of fiber optic technician’s bible distils “good practices and advice for improving the skills of the sector ”. Taking as examples “Concrete solutions responding to the various scenarios encountered in the field by technicians and making it possible to avoid complications and additional costs which can impact the relations between the actors involved”, the 144-page document emphasizes the need to “Do it right the first time”.
In the field, we can also cite the future pooling points tested by SFR FTTH, now called Xp Fiber since the merger with Covage. The left part concerning the commercial operators is pre-wired to the right part concerning the infrastructure operator to simplify the interventions. At the same time, an audit makes it possible to verify the correct wiring and to send the invoice to the commercial operator in the event of a connection remaining non-compliant. “In the cities concerned, the incident rate has been divided by two or three”, underlined Jean-Claude Brier, regional delegate of Altice France.
There is also the Orange experiment in the town of Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine, in Seine-Saint-Denis, with photos allowing to have the situation before and after the intervention of the technician. “We hope that by invoicing the repair of damaged cabinets to each operator who is responsible, they will be encouraged to improve the quality of their interventions”, explains Patrice Cointe, director of the Orange Île-de-France intervention unit. For this experiment, the historical operator signed an agreement with the municipality. In addition, there is a connected lock device with unlocking using NFC. Concretely, the technician performing an intervention on a street cabinet must have an NFC compatible smartphone and an appropriate application installed on it. It only remains for him to approach his mobile while being connected within the application to access the interior of the equipment. A good way to know who has accessed the equipment and when. In the event of a forced opening, a door opening detector can give the alert quickly.
At their level, some municipalities are trying to take matters into their own hands. Rolin Cranoly, the mayor of Gagny, in Seine-Saint-Denis, for example issued a decree obliging the town hall to report any intervention at the level of the fiber optic cabinets of the town. An online form is available online. The speakers also have a telephone number and a dedicated e-mail address. “En case of non-respect of this obligation, the operators could be punished with a fine ”, indicates the town hall.
The union of a RIP, namely a fiber optic network financed with public funds, even mentioned the idea of a “De-STOC-age” operation. Being the subject of a play on words here, the STOC mode (Commercial Operator Subcontracting) consists, as a reminder, in leaving the final part of the connection to the commercial operator and by extension to its subcontractors. For the mixed Doubs Très Haut Débit syndicate, this is no longer in question. This one simply wishes to prohibit the intervention of subcontractors in the department. Radical.
And after ?
The goal is clear, the government and the regulator now very attentive to the situation, consumers interested and more demanding than ever, the rules, limits and sanctions put on the table, operators increasingly invested in the deployment of networks, solutions now identified and tested in the field.
It remains to be seen whether the call to order and the new approach to the industry will make it possible to rectify the situation or if a new parameter will in turn spice up the game. Chances are it’s financial. A budget extension as there has already been to deploy the less profitable sockets and by extension the most expensive. Yes, fiber is also a matter of profitability.
Recall that, at the end of 2020, the government presented a post-covid recovery plan worth 100 billion euros, including nearly 7 billion for digital and 240 million more specifically for the fiber optic sector. Infranum was quick to react to the announcement of the plan, seeing “A strong signal”, taking into account the digital issue, and particularly welcoming the funding specifically allocated to the fiber optic sector. Even more recently, the release of an envelope of 420 million euros for deployment in RIPs was announced.