Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bill Woodcock from Packet Clearing House / Bill Woodcock de Packet Clearing House

I was lucky to be at a meeting last week with Bill Woodcock from Packet Clearing House. I don't know of anyone in the world who knows more about Internet traffic exchange and I spent all night at dinner asking him quesitons about the project. I'm an economist - not an engineer - so parts of the discussion went over my head. However, he had some excellent ideas on the network architecture.

His suggestion was to run a 48 strand fibre assembly from the point where we connect into the backbone network back into our own group of houses. He suggested we locate the midpoint in the residence to terminate the fiber connection. From there we could run copper (or fiber) for the last 100 meters to each home and still be capable of gigabit speeds. This would require someone to put the equipment in their basement - or at least at the side of their house.

He also was able to pull together some numbers based on what I said we wanted. Of course we don't know how much it will cost to patch into the backbone network but he figured of the top of his head that we'd be able to put together the network for under EUR 24,000 to reach the 24 homes. I'm going to start looking into the equipment I'd need on the ends of the connections to get a firm idea.

He also told me he has a presentation that Packet Clearing House gives about setting up larger-scale networks but that the same principles would apply to smaller networks. I wrote to him today to ask if he could pass it along.

Contacting Yvelines Numériques / Contacter Yvelines Numériques

Today I wrote an e-mail to Yvelines Numériques to ask about splicing into their fiber in our village. I decided to send the letter off in my bad French rather than wait to have someone go through it and perfect it. That may have been a mistake but I figure I'd rather get as much information as quickly as possible. I've asked them how much it will cost to splice in and then how much I'll need to pay for connectivity per month to reach one of the Internet exchanges in Paris. I specifically asked about the prices to reach POUIX or PARIX.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The bad news / La mauvaise nouvelle

We live close to fiber but that doesn't mean that we're going to be able to afford splicing into it. I was at a conference in Paris earlier in the week and spoke with several backhaul carriers who were familiar with the Yvelines Numeriques project. They mentioned that since it was open access and non-discriminatory that meant that I would have to pay as much for a fiber line as a large telco which was unbundling at the exchange. That makes sense to me (from an economic perspective) but does imply that our little residential project may run up against scale economy problems. One possiblity is that we'll be able to make the initial splice and pay for capacity which can then be resold in bits to other neighborhoods in the village which may be interested.

The other bad news could be the road construction. It seems as if several neighbors have been against spending EUR 2000 each to upgrade our roads. I spoke to my wife and she thought the roads were in perfectly good shape and would probably recommend holding off on doing the road work if it were up to her. That could pose a problem - or maybe just end up leaving us another year to work out the details.

The good news / La bonne nouvelle

One of the main reasons I think this project could work is that we live very close to an open-access fibre backbone ring running throughout our French department (Les Yvelines - 78). Our community (residence) within the village has 24 homes, one apartment building and a few commercial shops. At the closest point we're less than 100 meters from the fibre running down the main street of the village and then out to the rest of the department.

From my understanding the fiber ring project, Yvelines Numeriques, was built to provide companies using unbundled local loops a way to connect to local exchanges. We happen to be geographically very close to the network so the civil engineering costs should be quite low to reach the fiber ring.

The other good news is our "residence" will vote next month on whether we should pay to have our roads redone. Our road is private and we're looking at roughly EUR 110,000 to redo it - spread among the residents. If the road work does go ahead then this would be an excellent opportunity to lay the fiber.

There also seems to be a lot of support from people in the neighborhood for such a project. Everyone has trouble with their broadband connections. Our DSL was out for 4 weeks straight in April and others have had similar problems. A few people in our village work in telecommunications and others have jobs that rely heavily on Internet connections. I believe that take-up could be high, particularly among the newer residents.

Intro: The project / Intro: Le projet

I'm a telecommunications economist in Paris and I spend a lot of time thinking about and using broadband. We've chosen to live in a beautiful area of southwest Paris but one which has limited broadband options. In fact, broadband is terrible for everyone in our village. The incumbent operator (France Telecom) hasn't upgraded our own exchange for DSL and that means that people in the village are connected through one of two towns, each roughly 5 km away.

I subscribe to broadband via DSL and cable. At 4.5 km from the DSL exchange I receive 1 Mbit/s via the competitive operator Free - too slow for me to take advantage of their IPTV offer for example. I also subscribe to Noos for cable Internet. I pay for a 30 Mbit/s connection but receive only 3 Mbit/s - and even that is traffic shaped. Even 200 euros of calls to the helpline at 34 cents a minute hasn't solved the problem. I am not alone. It seems that almost everyone I speak with here has similar problems and people are getting fed up.

There is talk around town that France Telecom has offered to upgrade the exchange if the town will pay the costs (roughly EUR 50K). I say no. We're going to build this network ourselves. We are going to bring our own broadband to our homes.

Our goal is simple. We want a fiber to the home network capable of gigabit speeds which will be open to services from any operator. I've spent enough time writing about "open access" networks and infrastructure-based competition at work. Now it's time to get down and dirty and build one myself.

I've decided to keep a journal of my experiences along the way in case someone wants to replicate a similar rollout. This certainly won't be the first of it's kind. That honor probably goes to Måttgränd, Sweden. I'll be contacting them shortly for advice. However, I hope this project will show whether it is indeed possible for a small provider to roll out FTTH without economies of scale.