Keeping in touch: phone and internet in France
Staying connected with friends and family back in the UK is always an important part of living in France, so use Bob Elliott‘s guide to telecoms
We live in an information society that does not tolerate one moment of being out of touch. Setting up a new home in France puts additional requirements on your need to communicate by phone and email, so it’s important that you organise your telephone and broadband with the packages and services you want quickly and get it right first time.
Connect your phone
If your new home already has a working telephone line, or there has been one within the last two years, the service can be set up for just €55 if you provide the number or name of the last subscriber. The line should be live within five working days.
Properties that have not had a working line for more than two years will need an engineer to visit and the cost will rise to €124; you can expect the service to be active within 10 working days. The engineers will not be English speakers and they will not call UK mobiles, so if there is any possibility that they won’t be able to find your property, which can be a frequent problem, make sure you get a French SIM card for your mobile phone.
If you are moving to an apartment you will be asked for a ‘logo number’ which can often be found adjacent to the front door. Otherwise, the building manager will be able to provide it.
To find out which French mobile service gives the best coverage in your area, Visit www.quechoisir.org/app/forfait-mobile/signal-infos.php.
If your new home has never had a line you may be required to dig a trench from your boundary to the entry point for the line to go inside. You will also have to drill a hole in the external wall. The connection service only includes one internal phone socket and you will find it cheaper to use an electrician to install any others you may need. If there is no nearby pole you will be given an estimate for the cost of installing enough to bring the line to you. The typical cost is €500 per pole and this may not be attractive, especially if you also want broadband and the line speed is insufficient. The only practical solution is then a satellite service, which is described later .
If the property is only occupied for part of the year you can choose a service known as résidence ligne secondaire that can be suspended when you are away. It can carry a slow broadband service that can also be suspended. Orange has a monopoly for the supply of this, although if you are having a permanent service you can choose from a number of French companies as well as specialists looking after the English-speaking expat community that offer services not available from the others.
Once you know what type of line you want you should also decide on what services you need associated with it. Some are free, such as number withheld, while others such as number display or name display are charged at €1/month. This is also the time to make sure your directory entry is correct or, if you prefer to avoid sales calls, opt for the ex-directory equivalent liste rouge. There are other alternatives to this so speak with your new provider to get the one that best meets your needs. There are both online and paper directories with the latter issued free. There is also a reverse directory (www.pagesjaunes.fr/pagesblanches/aquiestcenumero.do) where you can find an address by inserting a telephone number.
Choose your package
You can choose from a wide range of call packages but there is usually a cost advantage from the specialist companies. This is because you are likely to make calls to UK marketing numbers often used by government departments, insurance companies and so on. These will be more expensive if made through a French company.
Also consider if you need a call package at all. If you have broadband and a mobile, and you link it wirelessly to your broadband, the calls may be free or very cheap, making a Pay As You Go tariff the best option.
Unlike in the UK, where you can order a new line and broadband at the same time, you have to wait until the line is working in France before ordering your broadband service. Once the order is placed you can expect to wait a further 10 days for the service to go live.
However, many of those choosing to live in rural areas are disappointed with the slow broadband speed available. You will probably know that the further away your house is from the local exchange, the slower the speed will be. So if broadband is important to you (the average modern home has six devices connected to the internet), you should test your line rather than simply assuming that a good service will be available.
Most suppliers will do this for you for free, and while you wait on the phone. They can test an active line to the property if one exists, or they will test a close neighbour’s line and give you an approximate speed. They will also interpret the results for you. A speed less than 1Mb will be slow and less than 2Mb it will not carry voice calls over the internet satisfactorily.
You can test a broadband speed by logging on to www.degrouptest.com, inserting the telephone number and reviewing the results.
All companies have access to a county-wide schedule of planned network upgrades so, in the event that the speed is poor, ask your supplier if there are planned improvements for your local exchange.
Get a free phone line
An interesting feature of the French service is that if you have a fast broadband speed and you choose to put all your calls over it, a service known as total dégroupage, you will no longer be charged for line rental, currently €17.96/month. The recommended minimum speed of your broadband to satisfactorily support this service is 2Mb. However, if your broadband fails you will lose your calls as well so do consider this, especially if you live in an area where the mobile service is poor.
Do not rely on a sales person saying that your line is suitable for this service – they do not usually carry out the test and are driven by sales targets. Have an independent test carried out for your own peace of mind, because if the service is not satisfactory you will have to pay to break your contract. You will also have to pay €55 to have the voice side of your line reactivated.
Satellite broadband is a good alternative; there are often special offers and the service delivers a speed of 22Mb anywhere in France. Unlike a broadband service over a telephone line, which gives unlimited access to the internet, you have to buy a monthly data allowance.
Packages start at €34.99/month for 10Gb, which is suitable for most general surfing and email users, and can be upgraded free or for short-term peaks of use. The service is more reliable than a landline as there is no threat of storm damage and corrosion, but it is a little more expensive. This higher cost can be offset by using the system to carry your calls as well. The combined cost of renting a number and a call package is less than a standard line rental.
There is some latency when making calls as your voice has to be sent up to the satellite and then into the network. However, the delay is much less than in the past and the service is very popular. One note of caution. If you are in an area where the service is near capacity the call side of the service may not work well. This is because the voice traffic cannot be given priority over data transmissions and calls will not always be possible in such circumstances.
This service has proved to be very popular and some areas such as St-Aubin-de-Cadelech in Dordogne are now fully subscribed, so do check with your preferred provider. This also means that in areas where there is spare capacity it is still possible to suspend the service when you are away. However, suspending the service in a fully subscribed area can result in the service being offered to a new customer and you not being able to get online when you return.
On the line
So you have completed your research and know what you want, and are ready to sign on the dotted line. Before you commit to a contract that will probably be for 12 months, it is worth looking at the forums to find out what others think about your preferred company as there are many tales of poor customer service.
They will all use the same contractors to repair faults as these are appointed by region or department and have to process failed lines. However, diagnosing a fault correctly and quickly is where it all starts and why you should consider the customer service record of any company you have shortlisted.
The memory of the sweetness of the lowest price is soon forgotten while the pain of lost internet services will be remembered for a long time afterwards.
Bob Elliott is commercial director at UK Telecom
Tel: 01483 477100
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