Access to HSBB has become a point of competitiveness and attraction throughout the regions. Eric Jammaron, Deputy CEO at Axione, provides this analysis: He presents us with the added value of the mutualised telecom infrastructure, and his role in revitalising the regions.

To summarise :

  • 2,200 employees
  • 550 million euros in consolidated turnover
  • 6,500 communes already provided with broadband, which amounts to 13 million inhabitants and 2 500 HSBB areas of activity
  • 150 operator customers
  • 4 million km of fibre deployed per year
  • 24 public initiative networks
  • 6million FTTH connections under contract
  • 700 staff appointments in 2020
In 2003, Axione was created to respond to the requirement for digital planning. Tell us more about exactly what your business involves.

We find solutions for responding to regions’ constraints in terms of connectivity. The principle is make it possible for all telecom operators to offer the best solutions everywhere, without having to build a network right to the customer’s door. In real terms, we design, build, fund and use new generation fibre and radio telecom networks, from national datacentres to the very last building in a ‘département’ [like a county]. These networks are then lent to operators. This recent problem was born from the fact that the risk linked to the profitability of investments limits the presence of operators, particularly in less densely populated regions. To meet this challenge, we started with the idea of mutualising one single telecom infrastructure used by all service providers, thereby making the old adage ‘one operator, one network’ redundant.

To what extent do you feel that ultra-high speed promotes the regions’ economic momentum?

Digital communication has a critical place in our daily lives: health, education, the economy, mobility, public services… This will continue to be the case, and will keep growing for years to come. Indeed nowadays, a large number of services, both public and commercial, are more easily accessed by the internet. This is why we need to provide relevant answers so that all regions are equal in this reality of digital life.

Today we are seeing a stronger trend to move away from the cities and settle down in less densely populated areas. The first thing people expect to have is a good connection and a good network. The internet has become a tool for production, commercialisation and socialisation. Building an infrastructure which changes the lives of people and businesses brings a meaning to our project, and ties in completely to a sustainable contribution to a progressive society.

Installing perfect, universal connectivity brings everyone an equal opportunity to develop themselves, learn, take care of themselves, sell or create. We are committed to finding the right solutions, according to the particular nature of each region, by deploying the right network in the right place.

We are currently part of a European, perhaps even global dynamic in terms of ensuring internet access under the best possible conditions. In this context, Axione is participating in writing history of universal connectivity. We must find long-term financial, technical, and organisational solutions, all while training people to face these new challenges, which are generating a lot of expectation across regions.

Could you explain what a PIN is? How is it different to other fibre optic deployment projects?

The Public Initiative Network (PIN) is an idea which was born from a 2004 law. More than 15 years ago, operators didn’t want to invest in very rural areas. Local collectivities were therefore authorised to establish telecommunication networks, so that operators could reach them. The notion of a mutualised infrastructure was born; this is the idea from which Axione was developed. The big difference with a private operator’s network is that the PIN is a local public service which translates into a public contract with commitments in terms of coverage, quality of infrastructure and quality of use. Managing a PIN means respecting a certain number of contractual general interest commitments that can be penalised by coercive measures. For example, in the most developed areas of the country, 100% of the population should be eligible for FTTH[1].

[1]Fibre To The Home

All HSBB key players are in agreement that deployment of fibre optics moved up a gear last year. What are your plans for the coming years?

The initial challenge is to continue to provide universal connectivity that must evolve over time, and therefore participate in the dynamic of urban and rural development in France and abroad. Both in very high speed fibre optics (FTTH) and radio (4 and 5G), as well as in low speed radio (Lora…).

To do this, we must continue down our path of industrialisation and retain our efficiency in production, all the while satisfying our customers’ general interest, the growth in subscriptions of our operator customers and the achievement of cash flows promised to our investors. The investment mutualisation model makes it possible to act on the intensity of competition, favouring a wide choice of providers and, indeed, the diversity of services. We have been using it for more than 15 years in the most rural zones. And we are now using it in the largest French cities, via our subsidiary company CityFast; Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux…

We are continually seeking to bring a higher added value, when operating both in France and abroad. Digital technology widens the range of possibilities. We are not ruling out any additional areas of development to make digital technology accessible to all.

Is public funding a determining factor for the development of infrastructures or are there alternatives?

Public funding has been very important in the rolling out of digital infrastructures, and also at the beginning of Axione’s history.

Historically, the financial markets were not aware of the problems with mutualised infrastructures. For this reason, they had no appetite for supporting investment projects on infrastructures like this without direct intervention with end customers and, in fact, with cash flows dependent on their operator customers. Now, this market has become a sought-after investment for financial investors.

Beyond their usefulness for the public, these projects also represent predictable returns, as the risk of the internet disappearing is highly unlikely.I would say that today, it is the contractual partnership with the public authorities rather than the public funding which unifies the various powers and pushes us collectively to find solutions in a particularly fast-moving environment.

Our employees’ daily lives include technical, financial and structural innovation… and a great deal of pragmatism in the field!

Recognising that the objective for FTTH in 2025 is 92%, 8% of the population will still need an alternative solution. What does that mean to you?

The target for Axione is 100% FTTH. The traditional era of telephone networks is coming to an end. In addition, the closure of the copper network has been announced as being between now and 2030.

Fibre therefore is the most long-term and suitable solution as its replacement.At the same time, we are working with mobile operators to deploy 4G and 5G. Indeed, we are not opposed to fibre to mobile networks. They will require a fairly strong fibre capillarity.

The more fibre there is in a region, the better the 5G coverage will be; the two nourish each other and are interdependent.There is a schedule and a calendar to ensure we manage to achieve this objective of fibre for everyone. At the same time as these deployments, there is capacity for other solutions to temporarily provide answers to needs such as HSBB radio (LTE), which we are deploying throughout numerous departments, fixed 4G of mobile operators, or satellite…

The difficulty of recruitment in fibre-related professions is often discussed. How does Axione find this issue?

Our employees are at the heart of the success of our business and the added value of the company. Every person working at Axione is participating in a collective, ambitious and public utility business project. We support our employees so that they may evolve their careers within the company. Our skills are diverse: finance, technology, management, marketing, trade, innovation, communication…  We believe that every person has something to contribute to the company. Axione is, first and foremost, a human and industrial adventure.

The company’s senior management is there to support, motivate and promote the collective intelligence which is one of our driving forces. We are always stronger as an entity, and good ideas can come from everyone and anyone. In 2020, we are proposing more than 700 staff appointments in France and abroad. We have great careers prospects to offer to our future talents.

The issues with digital service development and regional equipment are faced by many. Several countries are in mid-development, for example Germany and the UK, where fibre optics are becoming an important issue. There is no doubt that we can provide these countries with our knowledge. That’s why this year we created Axione UK, to export the mutualised infrastructure model and thus continue the adventure on the other side of the Channel.

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