Getting broadband in France

Getting access to the internet is a common problem for many homeowners in rural France. Toby Forman looks at the options available for those living in a broadband black spot

Finding a property with a good broadband connection is a common problem in France, especially for those wanting to move to a rural area. Thankfully there are options available to those who find themselves without a broadband connection, and the cost of these services may come as a surprise.

There are essentially three different technologies that are used in France to deliver non-wired internet connectivity to consumers: satellite, WiMAX and 3G. The availability of two of these solutions – WiMAX and 3G – depends entirely upon location.

 

SATELLITE

Satellite internet has been around for a long time and is normally not location-dependent, as long as you have line of sight to the satellite. The principle is easy: the data requests are sent via a satellite to a network operations centre (NOC) located on the ground with a super-fast connection to the backbone of the internet. The requests are then received by the NOC and are then sent back to the computer by the same satellite.

Once this connection has been made, the speeds you can expect from satellite internet compare very well to more traditional wired broadband solutions such as ADSL and cable, which offers up to 20mbits download and 6mbps upload.

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How satellite internet works:

 

Availability: Anywhere as long as you have a line of sight to the satellite.

 

Cost: Depends on the operator but prices start from €29.90 for up to 10GB of traffic per month and up to €74.90 for an unlimited service. Alternatively, some operators such as Nordnet offer a pay-as-you-go service from €3 per month and €2.99 per day. Depending on your location, the cost of the equipment and installation will vary. If you use a French operator then you may be eligible for a grant. Again the cost of the equipment or the installation may be paid for by the Conseil Général.

 

Pitfalls: Installation and data capping are the greatest pitfalls. It always pays to get a qualified installer to set up the system and guarantee the installation. With all data-capped broadband solutions it’s important to understand what the cap means in real terms. A data limit includes data you both download and upload. A good idea is to buy a router that allows you to manage your data limit by either sending you an email when you reach a certain amount of your monthly allowance or only allows you a certain amount of data per day.

 

WiMAX

In simple terms WiMAX is an external wireless internet solution. It uses the same technological principles as mobile phone operators for spreading the signal in an area. The difference between WiMAX and satellite is that WiMAX is generally only available in certain geographic areas due to the requirements to have a network of line-of-sight antennae/relay stations which carry the signals. In France, operators use the 3.5 Ghz band for transmitting the signal.

Download speeds are generally much more limited, typically between 2 and 10mbits and services can be more prone to traffic shaping as the network is harder to manage than either a wired DSL or satellite solution.

 

How WiMAX works:

 

Availability: WIMAX is not national and operators generally focus on certain communes within departments. The operator which appears to have the greatest coverage is Ozone (ozone.fr), but only offers a 2mbit connection whereas operators such as A2Cnet (A2Cnet.fr) offer connections up to 10mbit.

 

Cost: You can expect to pay between €29.90 and €59.90 per month for a 12-month subscription for an unlimited connection and often the cost of installation is included.

 

Pitfalls: Generally speed and network reliability. As the providers are relatively small companies in relation to the major operators, they often rely on outsourced labour for installation. Speeds can be limited and can limit the type of content that can be consumed.

 

3G, 3G+/H+ and 4G:

 

3G, 3G+ or H+ and 4G are all types of wireless data networks that, depending on your device and the technology, allow you to access the internet at varying speeds. Each type of technology uses the same infrastructure as a mobile phone network – speeds vary from between 128kbps to 512kbps for 3G networks through to advertised speeds of up to 150mbps for 4G. Operators tend to increase data services in more densely populated areas where they know they can obtain a greater return on their investment, so rural areas tend to get left behind.

 

How mobile broadband works:

 

While mobile broadband may not be suitable for those living in very rural areas at the moment, it can be very useful for people in urban locations who have poor connectivity.

 

Availability: In France 4G networks using LTE technology are in the process of being rolled out by the major operators. Some, such as Bouygues Télécom, are claiming they will be national by the end of October. This generally means that most major cities will be covered. At present, for example, large parts of the Côte d’Azur are covered by the major operators and we would expect to see major ski resorts starting to be covered by winter 2013.

 

Cost: You can expect to pay as little as €9.90 per month for a basic 4G contract with Orange with a data limit of 1GB per month or even pay-as-you-go which will become increasingly attractive for second-home owners.

 

Pitfalls: 4G coverage will be limited to densely populated areas so it will be some time before more rural areas receive connectivity. Mobile broadband can also be prone to network congestion and so upload and download speeds may not be reliable.

 

Overall, it is possible to obtain an affordable internet connection even in the most remote location. In my experience, satellite internet is probably the most reliable and cost-effective solution at present. In the future, however, the benefits offered by 4G and next generation mobile wireless internet will most likely outweigh those of traditional wired solutions such as ADSL and Fibre Optics, especially for second-home owners looking for affordable pay-as-you-go solutions.

 

Toby Forman is Managing Director of Broadband in France, www.smartcic.com

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