Fabien Gevaert, Axione’s Director of Strategy, explains how fibre optics is the major infrastructure, in terms of quality and durability, for meeting the current and future telecoms needs of all businesses.

What about digital transformation in France? What about companies?

The digital transformation of the territories continues at an incredible speed, in the logical continuation of the France Very High Speed ​​Plan. The problems of infrastructure and access to very high speed are on the way to being resolved, since the majority of territories will be covered almost 100% by optical fiber from 2025. If the general public massively adopts this new infrastructure, if the communities, stakeholders in this Plan, are now looking forward by working on the advent of new uses and digital tools aimed at improving the lives of our fellow citizens, in areas as varied as health, education, mobility… it is clear that the movement is not as dynamic on the business market.

According to the European Commission, France is lagging behind in the digital transformation of its companies. In the latest edition of its index relating to the digital economy and society (published in January 2022), it ranks France in 19th place among other European countries. However, telecom infrastructures are well and truly deployed in France, both in dense and less dense areas. The figures recently published by ARCEP, the independent regulatory authority for the sector, show that more than 2 thirds of our companies are still connected via a copper link, a historic infrastructure in the process of being dismantled!

In terms of telecoms, France is therefore a land of paradoxes:

– We have an extremely developed ecosystem of specialized service operators for companies with varied characteristics (nearly 200 operators are now customers of our networks in this segment);

– We have a widely deployed fiber infrastructure, widely adopted in the private sphere;

– However, our companies remain, at this stage, behind in the modernization of their connectivity.

The good news, as you will have understood, is that all the lights are green to speed up!

What are the advantages of fiber optics over copper?

Previously, companies could be blocked in their digital transformation. Simply because the first step, connectivity, was technically limited because of the copper network. Optical fiber is much more efficient in terms of connection than ADSL. Indeed, the speed for a connection with the fiber is at least 300 Mbits per second, when for ADSL, it is between 1 and 15 Mbits per second. For example, the transfer of a hundred photos takes about 5 minutes with ADSL, but only 28 seconds with fiber. This is nowadays limiting – even for a simple internet use – and especially not scalable. Independently of the use, copper accesses are more complex to repair in case of failure.

To access a more efficient offer, companies had no choice but to use dedicated fiber networks. Generally very expensive, and mainly present in large urban centers, with the exception of public initiative networks. These networks have allowed to bring fiber to the territories, and to democratize its use by companies. Without them, the situation would be even worse.

Today, fiber is everywhere and accessible to all. The telecom infrastructure no longer poses any constraints in the digital transformation of companies. It accompanies them in their development. If their telecom needs increase because their structure is growing, or if they wish to launch a new activity, fiber connectivity can be adapted: increase in speed, addition of service guarantee options with your provider…

Last but not least, optical fiber is the sustainable infrastructure for at least the next 40 years, unlike copper which will gradually disappear. More efficient, more stable and less energy consuming than copper access, fiber access is the connectivity solution of the future.

What is Axione’s role in the fibre-optic market?

Axione occupies an atypical position in the market. Our history as a builder/operator of public-initiative networks for almost 20 years has led us to develop strong values around neutrality, quality and the co-construction of solutions, both with our public partners and with our operator customers. These solutions are long term and focus on the common interest of the territories in which we operate.

Our DNA has not changed: as a digital developer of territories, our role is to facilitate the link between an end customer (individual, company or community) and the commercial operator who will provide the service he needs, always with the same requirement of quality.

Infrastructure is a common good that must benefit everyone. It is therefore up to us to mobilize the appropriate resources to enable the entire chain to benefit from a quality infrastructure. What matters to the end customer, and in particular to the company, is that the service they have subscribed to is delivered, regardless of the underlying infrastructure.

This is what we strive to do on a daily basis.

How do you deploy your connectivity solutions?

To date, Axione has covered around 6 million fiber connections, half in rural areas and half in very dense areas. In practical terms, this means that we are now the manager of the telecoms access infrastructure in some 20 French departments, at least for the next 20 years. In cities such as Paris, Nantes, Bordeaux and Grenoble, we also have network coverage enabling us to offer access solutions to commercial operators.

We rely on 100% Axione teams, both for our field operations (thanks to the presence of operational staff working throughout France) and for the supervision of our network, in particular with a Network Operating Center (NOC) based in Pau. This center monitors the networks we operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have our own engineering teams and a network mirror lab. We are also actively working on a daily basis with our operator customers to improve the efficiency of our processes and we are fully committed to the objective of continuous improvement advocated by the regulator.

We already offer our operator customers connectivity solutions adapted to their needs and we are working to develop them further as necessary. For example, our range of activated accesses called OPERA is based on three products targeting three types of needs:

-The OPERA Home offer, close to the so-called “general public” offers, characterized by an access offering a lot of downstream speed, mainly targeting professionals and craftsmen;

-The OPERA Office offer, designed for an intermediate market: high downstream speed, 100 Mbps symmetrical guaranteed and a 10-hour recovery guarantee in case of failure for a telecom budget of less than €200. This offer, which is just starting to be marketed, seems to us to be particularly well suited to convincing SMEs to switch to fiber!

-The OPERA Business offer is more oriented towards high-end needs: guaranteed symmetrical speeds of up to 1 Gbps and a 4-hour recovery guarantee in case of failure. Our ability to produce this offer on shared networks allows us to offer it at the best price to our partners, while respecting our commitments.

By relying on our local roots, the professionalism of our teams and our technological mastery, we try to assume our role on a daily basis and with humility to meet the promised quality.

Why was it important to offer a complete range?

Our goal is to give as many people as possible access to these latest generation fiber networks.

Many companies are still on the copper network, especially intermediate companies. The premium fiber offers were considered too expensive by this type of company. As for the entry-level fiber offer, they felt that it did not meet their quality needs. Today, our Office range is aimed directly at this intermediate market.

Gaining in speed and recovery guarantee becomes accessible to SMEs, in an economy close to that of copper. In addition, our ability to guarantee premium service levels on a shared infrastructure will enable them in the medium term to access a better telecom service for a preserved budget. That’s the whole point of network sharing!

In the end, we are moving in the same direction as ARCEP, which is determined to make the new fiber infrastructure a reference for all uses.

Lastly, we believe that commercial operators should be able to find a complete, functionally uniform range of services from Axione that is accessible to as wide a catchment area as possible. We are therefore working to continually expand our coverage area.