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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 August 2007, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
French put va va voom into broadband
By Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent, BBC News

Fibre optic
Countries with the fastest broadband use fibre optic networks

Are you happy with the speed of your broadband? A comparison of fast broadband in London and Paris, shows it is a far, far better thing to head to the French capital if you want to surf at speed.

Before leaving for Paris, I checked my own home connection. It offers 2Mbps - pretty typical for London - and was working at a respectable 1.6Mbps when I used an online speed test.

In theory, you can now get up to 24Mbps from a couple of UK providers. In practice, hardly anyone gets that speed and even those on 8Mbps broadband were getting an average of just 2.7Mbps in a recent test carried out by Which?

In Paris, though, there is a bewildering amount of choice if you want fast broadband.

"A few years ago there was virtually nothing," Guillaume Kuch told me when I visited his apartment in the Paris suburb of Neuilly.

"Now all sorts of companies are offering at least 10Mbps."

Sparked investment

Guillaume is paying 14 Euros a month (around 10) for a 12Mbs connection and free phone calls. That's about half as much as I pay in London for something one sixth as fast.

What has sparked investment in broadband is France is the low take-up of digital television, which makes it more attractive to offer TV over the internet.

Many broadband providers now throw in a set-top box with a package which gives customers television, telephone and internet down a fast broadband line for around 30 Euros (about 20) a month.

But something even faster is on its way. Beneath the streets of Paris two companies, France Telecom's Orange and Free, are laying down fibre-optic cables to bring speeds of up to 100Mbps to homes in parts of the city.

Fibre-to-the-home, as it is known, is viewed as far too expensive a solution in the UK.

But a France Telecom engineer lifts a manhole in the pavement to show me that the fibre is being run through existing pipes.

That, and the fact that many Parisians live in apartment blocks, means that the cost of installing the new network is not quite as high as it would be in London.

So what does 100Mbps actually look like? Orange provides a helpful table showing that it would enable me to download an HD quality film in just 40 minutes, as compared with more than eight hours on an 8Mbps line.

At a shop in a Paris suburb plastered with adverts for "la fibre", the company is demonstrating the new service.

When I try it out with my laptop I find I'm only getting around 22Mbps - but then I am using a wi-fi connection, which would curb the speed, and there is a high-definition television online using some of the bandwidth.

So far just two thousand people have signed up to the fibre service, which costs 45 Euros a month (30) for the internet connection, a 51 channel television service and unlimited phone calls. But Orange is aiming for up to 200,000 customers by the end of 2008.

Extra bandwidth

Why then, should anyone want super-fast broadband? After all, BT says that its Vision internet television service runs perfectly well in the UK on a 2Mbps connection.

But Paris is convinced that extra bandwidth can provide big economic benefits, with the city's Mayor throwing his weight behind fibre-to-the-home as a way of making the French capital Europe's leading digital city.

Rodrigo Sepulveda Schulz believes the strategy is working. He showed me round his internet television business, vpod.tv , run from a small office in central Paris.

He said the availability of fast broadband was one of the reasons he chose to locate his business here.

"The videos start immediately, rather than buffering for ten seconds as happens in the US. So it's a fantastic experience and it means we can sell more technology to our customers."

Back in the UK, it has been estimated that a project to build fibre-to-the-home reaching 90% of customers would cost 10 billion.

Right now, nobody is prepared to risk that kind of money. But the Paris experiment will be watched closely to see if it can prove profitable to deliver lightning fast broadband to homes.




SEE ALSO
Britain 'failing' net speed tests
02 Aug 07 |  Technology
Broadband Britain 'speeding up'
22 Feb 07 |  Technology
Global broadband prices revealed
16 Jul 07 |  Technology

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