18 December, 2006

Web 3

I went to the second day of the Web3 event in Paris last week and here are my comments after the discussions that have been going on all week. My take on this meeting is that it was worth holding, even if it was too business-oriented for the likings of some. It was stimulating and interesting and a great place to meet people. A pity I hadn't been able to be there the first day too.

I was wary about finding wifi access after reports of the previous day. The only wifi connection in the lobby area and press room was a fee-paying one from Orange. A journalist filing a story told me she was using the Orange ticket she had bought at her hotel. The press relations people couldn't help. Then, surprise surprise, Orange had a stand where they were distributing free tickets for the wifi. A rock-solid connection at the far end of the lobby area, including the press room. Someone should tell the event's press-relations people.
Only after I had filed a story (on a completely unconnected matter) for my day job did I actually go into the conference area. And lo and behold, wifi all over the place, with laptops on knees throughout the hall. Someone should definitely tell the press relations people!

Much has been written about the hijacking of the conference by French politicians. I found that Bayrou came over quite well if somewhat on the long side. Sarko's however was a complete waste of time. He started out by saying that he didn't know much about the Internet. In that case, why had he bothered to come? We know the answer of course, speaking at meetings is what politicians do. The rest of the speech (if you're curious, it's here, in French of course) was about how France should catch up in helping innovative Internet companies, downloading and digital rights. Nothing to do with the subject of the panel debate he had interrupted like an adverising break, which was how blogs affect the democratic process. He left the hall as soon as he had finished reading his prepared speech. I shouted out for "questions",as did a few other people, but to no avail. Nothing interactive about Sarko's approach to democracy. He had obviously been badly briefed about the subject of the day, but it shows how much he doesn't actually care. Confirmation for my anti-Sarko position.

04 December, 2006

The fibres are coming: 2 cable

Here is the second fibre story to hit the headlines:

As expected, the new combined French cable operator announced that it was about to launch an optical fibre service at the first press conference since the grand merger. The new cablo still trades under the names of its component operators (Noos, UPC, NC Numericable, France Telecom Cable, Est Videocom, TDF Cable as well as Coditel in Belgium), so as not to confuse existing subscribers, all under the umbrella of Ypso France. It accounts for 99.6% of French cable networks, generating E1 bn of sales a year from 4.5 million clients, including 300,000 cable telephone subscribers and 700,000 broadband.
Patrick Drahi, Chairman of Altice (which owns 30% of Ypso) explained that harmonizing the very large number of combinations of services, prices, packages and conditions from its component cablos is a mammoth task.
The network is being upgraded to optical fibre, using FTTB technology using coaxial cable within the building. The cost “fiberising” subscribers was not disclosed but Drahi did say it was less than the E700 mentioned by its rival Erenis a few days previously. The figure of E100 per subscriber was bandied about by observers.
The high speed service, 100 megabit/s will be available from 4 December, for E30 a month, as well as various double and triple play packages. It will be rolled out initially in 10 towns and rapidly extended to all the service area. E100 million a year is being invested in the project. A basic offer, costing just E4 a month, will be offered to collective dwellings, consisting of telephone, 48 channels and 256 k of bandwidth, on condition that the whole building is cabled. “This will breach the digital divide” said Drahi. Residents will then already be connected if they want to take up a premium option.
Other announcements at the press conference included increasing the number of channels, to eventually reach 500 and the launch of HD and VOD at the beginning of 2007

The fibres are coming, number 1, Erenis

Fibre is finally getting prety close to the home. Two new stories have broken in the last few days, after the announcements earlier this year from France Telecom and Free.

Here is the first one, about Erenis, a small company that has been quietly cabling Paris with fibre for the last two years:

The optical fibre broadband provider Erenis is to launch a commercial service with a download speed of 100 Mb/s and download speed of 50 Mb/s in January, coupled with triple play, 100 GB of user storage, unlimited telephone calls to landlines in 100 countries and a bouquet of 54 TV channels (soon to be increased to 100). Much higher than its current 50 Mb/s download and 6 Mb/s upload service and enough to include two simultaneous HDTV channels. Pitched at the same price level as basic ADSL (E30 a month for the first year and E35 a month after that), with no hidden extras (modem rental, entry or termination fee) other than a E60 deposit for the modem, this makes it “the best offer in the market” according to its CEO Daniel Caclin.
Erenis is currently cabling Paris with optical fibre. The technology used is FTTB (fibre to the building), with VDSL within the building. This is particularly suited to the nature of Paris architecture, consisting of many small apartment blocks. The average length of copper from the fibre terminal equipment to the home is 30 metres, said Caclin. To date, 1,500 buildings in Paris, reaching 50,000 apartments, have been connected to the Erenis network. It has 9,000 subscribers, expecting to reach 10,000 by the end of the year. It plans to start installing fibre in the close suburbs next year and in the provinces from 2008, with the aim of having 300,000 clients by 2011.
Erenis raised E26.5 million earlier this year to pay for the cabling costs, which average E700 per subscriber. The short payback time (to recover the cabling costs from a subscriber) which Caclin estimates at between two and a half and 4 years, will enable Erenis to continue installing fibre until its next raising of funds. Erenis now has a permanent staff of 150, compared to just 30 as of February this year.
Competition is beginning to appear in the sector. France Telecom is operating only a pilot fibre project. Free (Iliad group) has announced a massive fibre investment plan over ten years. Cable operator UPC-Noos-Numericable is to announce a similar offer in the next few days.