Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New networks drive innovation / Nouveaux réseaux stimulent l'innovation

I rode on a new Delta Airlines plane the other day across the US and was impressed with the television/entertainment system installed in every seat. The movie and TV portion of the system were the same as you would find on any other long-haul flight. However, the new system also allows you to play interactive games against other passengers.

Delta customers also will be entertained with a suite of 10 video games, including Book Worm, Trivia, Bejewled, Zuma, Texas Hold 'em Poker and an interactive trivia game that allows for some friendly competitive play among passengers. Panasonic's eFX single aisle in-flight entertainment system gives Delta an interactive technology platform to offer even more in-flight options in the future like laptop connectivity, broadband internet, and e-mail access.

My favorite was the interactive trivia game which pits travelers against one another. You can see all the participants' screen names and seat numbers alongside their scores as you play. I played round after round and was amazed at how quickly the time passed on the flight. I was struck by how this new and innovative application was made possible by networking the seats on the plane together. After seeing and trying the trivia game for the first time it seems like such a wonderful, simple and obvious use of the plane's upgraded internal network.

I immediately thought back to the FTTH network in St Nom and the struggles I've had trying to explain to people what applications will need 100 Mbit/s now or in the future. The answer is we probably don't know yet but they will appear once the networks are in place. They too will likely strike us as wonderful, simple and obvious after we've tried them the first time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Time to think - Du temps a penser

I'm looking forward to having a bit more time to stop, think and plan. We've come to the US on vacation and that will hopefully give me some time to make calls and ask some questions here in English about fiber rollouts. There are some interesting projects going on here in the US and hopefully I'll be able to make a site visit to one of them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

fSONA: Is anyone there? / fSONA: est-ce que quelqu'un est là ?

fSONA makes high-capacity wireless optical systems (using lasers) that can be used for point-to-point communication without a license. I wanted to call them to ask about prices - possibly as a way to avoid digging the 310 meters from our residence to the exchange. I know. It's a longshot but I figured I'd give it a try.

The reason I thought of fSONA was because I had fairly good contact with their company in my previous job. They found an interesting niche and their marketing team was always very helpful at providing me with case studies and background information when I needed it.

Now, fast forward a few years and I'm calling as a possible client - not as an analyst. I visited their site and there was no pricing information. I waited until evening my time (in Paris) and called their US/Canadian numbers to speak with the sales department. They didn't answer and I was routed through to an outsourced answering service which offered to take a message. I gave them my information and then was hit with his doosie of a question:

Operator: "How much do you want to spend?"

Tad: "As little as possible!"

The first thing I though of was Clark W. Griswold's experience with the mechanic in "National Lampoon's Vacation".

I called back for four days straight and they don't seem to be answering their phones. Each time I leave a message for them to call me and I still haven't heard from them. It's too bad because their marketing team really stood out for how hard they worked to raise the company's visibility. Now they seem like a company that can't manage answering their own phones in the sales department. Ouch.

It certainly doesn't seem like a good sign for fSONA.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Meeting with Yvelines Numériques / RDV avec Yvelines Numériques

I met up with Jean LEBRET of Yvelines Numériques today in Paris. (For a quick reminder: Yvelines Numeriques is a public/private backhaul network running through our French department). We walked over to a small cafe to talk about the project when French fighter planes cruised right above us in formation - flanking what looked to be a bomber of some sort. It happened three times on the short walk and the jets even left blue and red trails behind them. The whole ground shook as they flew by. Very impressive. We assumed it was practice for Bastille Day coming up.

Once we sat down I explained what I wanted to accomplish with the project and where our residence is located. I may be wrong but I think he was a bit surprised with my determination to see this project through. He jumped right in too saying that he hadn't heard of a similar project yet in France and thought this could actually work in our favor - helping us convince politicians to help me out.

He pulled out his computer and we started going over the maps. It turns out we are very close to their fiber backbone network - but not quite as close as their public map had made it appear. Their network actually dips down a street lower from us, away from the main road, as it comes near the church (and near us). He was able to measure the distance from the edge of the residence to the nearest possible splice point for their network (310 meters). Still not too bad.

He gave me an estimate for how much it will cost to get from our network (in the residence) to his (closer to the exchange): EUR 120 per meter.

310 meters * EUR 120/meter = EUR 37,200

Expensive. He did mention that the prices for the dig could actually be lower (down to EUR 50 per meter) if we were mainly going through fields - which I don't think we would be.

I was a bit taken back with the costs of simply getting to the backhaul but it make me think of some other options, particularly wireless. I'll write about those a bit later.

The main thing I pulled out of our conversation was that he thinks the best way to approach this is by convincing the government to help us get connected to the network. We would essentially ask the village or department to pay for (or subsidize) the connection to Yvelines Numériques as a way for them to save money on connectivity for government offices in the town (e.g. schools, mayor's office, post office). The more he talked about it the more I thought this could be an option. He gave me the names of two people in the Conseil Général to contact who may be able to help. He also suggested I go back to the Mayor and try to convince him to pool the demand for the local government as a way to justify running a fiber between the mayor's office and their network. We could take some strands as the network passed by on the road to the commercial center.

This could be politically attractive option since the Department helped fund half the backbone network and they would have an interest in seeing it lit. Yvelines Numériques only provides the dark fiber so the more cables they can light, the better. I got the impression that the network has much more capacity now than is in use. Out of the 144 fibers in their first cable it sounded like less than 10% were lit in our area. They would definitely have room for us if we could get to them. He also explained that once we'd be in contact with their own fiber the costs would be quite low to go the rest of the way to the exchange (100 meters). They charge EUR 1.80 per meter per year.

Once we made it to the exchange other operators could easily supply us with services since they also have lit fibers on the same backhaul network. The operators may not have their own equipment in the exchange now but it wouldn't be difficult or expensive to simply create a drop point.

Finally, Jean recommended I use PEHD (high density polyethylene in English) for the conduit when I lay it down in the sidewalks. By his calculation I'd need around a kilometer of it and he said the costs wouldn't be too bad.

I was very glad that Yvelines Numériques got back to me and there may be a way to work with them on this. The costs seemed high but I feel at least that this was sign that I can actually make this work.

Monday, July 9, 2007

FTTH advice from the Netherlands / Conseil de FTTH venant des Pays Bas.

Vincent MONVILLE suggested I talk to someone who actually does FTTH rollouts to get an idea of what type of network topology I should choose. Then he'd be able to help me calculate the costs of putting in the network.

I've made several contacts in the Netherlands with operators who have/are putting in their own open-access fiber networks and I contacted them with the question about network topology over the weekend.

I explained that I was originally interested in having a simple "active star" topology with the fiber aggregation point in the middle of the residence and an individual conduit to each home going out from the center like the arms of an octopus. Vincent raised some concern that this could mean I'd need much bigger trenches right next to the aggregation point because I'd have to put a large number of conduit together.

I wrote to the FTTH experts in the Netherlands and asked for ideas, explaining my concerns and looking for their suggestions. They responded quickly and said that running individual conduit to each house from the center was probably the best way to proceed - given our particular geographic and cost factors. The maximum number of conduit I'd be putting in any trench would likely be 8 (with the exception of the two apartment buildings). There I could probably run a larger conduit which would support a thicker cable of fibers.

I'll get back to Vincent and ask for his advice from here.

French civil costs with Vincent MONVILLE / Discussion des coûts civils avec Vincent MONVILLE

I had lunch with Vincent MONVILLE, a French fiber specialist who is a friend of Benoît FELTEN. I met him to talk about general costs and civil works here in France. He's very familiar with providing point-to-point fiber connectivity and clued me in to some of the hurdles I'm going to have to go through. I took notes and even snatched the part of the paper table cloth where he'd drawn some network diagrams.

He broke the network into three geographical parts:

  1. Outside the residence
    This is one of the most complex parts of the civil works to manage bureaucratically. He suggested this is best handled by the operator from whom we eventually purchase connectivity or bring in to provide their own services. In these areas we're also required to dig down the full 60 cm for the trenches.
  2. Public areas of the residence (sidewalks, roads. aggregation point)
    Vincent explained that in a residence I'll probably need to put my request to use the public spaces (and dig the road) to a vote of the residents. That seems natural. I then asked him if I'd need unanimous support from the residents. This could be difficult to obtain after watching some of the debates at the previous association meeting. However, he explained that the process for getting approval is different among associations. In some you only need permission of the "syndic" or president of the association. Others may require a majority vote. Finally, there are some circumstances when we'd have to have all residents in agreement. I'll have to check more on how this works for our own residence. One positive element - we may be able to reduce the depth of the trenches to 15 cm since the residence is private property. That will reduce costs.
  3. Personal property
    Obviously here we'd need permission of every owner before digging in their property. I think most will agree to this, particularly if they're not paying up front. However, there could still be cases where people may decide they don't need fiber and don't want their lawns and gardens touched. This poses a particular problem. In order to attract operators we need to have as many potential clients as possible. Skipping a house with the network (because an owner refuses) will be slightly less costly but also will decrease the incentive for operators. Vincent suggested a work-around here. We could simply put a small drop box in the public portion of the sidewalk in front of their home. As soon as the owner changed his/her mind we could pick up the conduit from there and bring it to the house.

Vincent also explained several steps before the contractors come in and start digging up the road/sidewalk in the residence:

  1. Ask the mayor for a list of network owners
    We need the list of the network owners (electricity, water, sewer, gas, phone, cable) so we can ask them for maps of where their networks are in the area. We'd need to map our own conduit around the existing infrastructure. Vincent explained this was part of a 1991 law I'll have to dig up (so to speak).
  2. Wait four weeks for answers
    The operators have four weeks to answer us with their maps. These will typically come as a PDF or as paper copies.
  3. Present maps and plans to residents
    Once I've mapped out the proposed route for the network I need to present it to the residents. This would show them where we would like to dig in the public areas and on their property.
  4. Notifying existing network owners of the dig
    The company doing the digging has to send a "DICT" to all network owners 10 business days before the work starts. This notifies them that there may be work near their own networks and I assume it allows them to come and ensure their networks remain untouched.

Vincent also gave me a bit of information about the rack I'd need to install and the elements that I'd need to put in it. I'll try to locate this in the public area of the residence which will serve as the aggregation point for the fiber connections.

  • Enclosure: 2m x 60 cm x 60 cm
  • Uninterrupted power supply
  • A fiber entry point
  • The actual switching/termination equipment
  • Batteries

Vincent gave me lots of good advice and suggested I speak next with people who have been doing FTTH projects to see how they would plan out the network. Once I have that information he said he'd be able to give me a better picture of the costs involved.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Olivier JERPHAGNON - (Calient)

Yesterday I met with Olivier JERPHAGNON who works for Calient Networks. Dirk VAN DER WOUDE suggested we meet because of the connection between unbundling/regulatory policy and the optical switching equipment Calient produces. The gist of our discussion was about how different topologies and technologies affect the way alternative operators can access end-users. Luckily, I was also able to talk to him for a minute about this project as well.

Here are a some of the key/interesting items he brought up:


  1. One of the competitive operators here in France is planning to have 60 POPs for all of Paris at 10,000 subscribers each. That certainly helps in terms of scale economies.
  2. Access networks are similar to airports and harbors. If cities can promote the development of airports and harbors then they should be able to put in networks as well.
  3. The more "pure" the model for structural separation, the more tax money will be needed to fund the rollout of the network.
  4. VDSL and PON FTTH networks typically have a few hundred subscribers in a street cabinet compared to our 50.
  5. Calient's equipment is useful for creating dynamic PON and end-run networks from a central point. Their equipment is usually located in a central office (exchange) but they are working on a smaller version for street-size cabinet use.
St Nom Fiber
  1. Our project is small enough that it may be difficult to attract operators to come and provide services. He suggested that operators may only consider if they can be the sole provider.
  2. He emphasized that the key to attracting an operator will be having everything in place for them to connect in.
  3. One area where we may have an advantage is connecting the last 10 meters. The last few meters to reach a house and install the connection are among the most difficult and expensive for operators. We will be much more attractive to operators if, with the support of the residents, we install the network ourselves (and this last 10 meters) ourselves.
  4. He urged me to approach as many operators as possible about coming in and connecting into the network.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Benoît FELTEN - (Fiberevolution)

Two work colleagues and I had lunch with Benoît FELTEN of Fiberevolution to talk about the project and fiber rollouts in general here in France. We spent a good deal of time discussing why many operators were planning PON-based networks versus end-run fiber.

Some key points of the discussion:

  • First fiber in will likely solidify their position as a monopoly provider. This has huge implications for competition, network architecture and regulation.
  • The 50 homes in our project are peanuts for operators here in France. The key will be using this as a high-profile test case for the business model.
  • This little project could help apply pressure on local candidates running for office next year. Hopefully we can make open-access fiber one of the main campaign issues at least in the village.
  • The power of Web/Telco 2.0. This came up in two ways. First, it's so easy to make connections with other like-minded people with the interactive Internet of today. Second, and Benoît pointed this out, we're likely not long from the day where you can offer a complete third-party "triple-play" offer using Joost, Gmail and Skype.

I've also asked Benoît for help locating people with fiber expertise in the area. This is going to be really important because as interested as I am personally, I need to find someone who really knows installations here in France.

Competition / Concurrence

Competition is king.

I'm a big fan of competitive telecommunication markets because that's where the action is. Consumers are better off and providers are pushed to innovate and provide the best services. France has one of the most competitive broadband markets in the world and that has both positive and negative implications for this project.

On the positive side - Paris and other large cities are getting fiber - possibly from multiple providers. Soon others (in non-covered areas) are going to start wondering why they don't have it as well. That can only help projects like this one. We also have some of the best broadband packages in the world. The operator Free offers ADSL 2+ connections at up to 26 Mbps, free fixed calls to 42 countries and 100+ television channels for EUR 29.99 a month. Free has announced that it will move people to fiber for the same price. That's hard to beat.

And therein lies the negative aspect of competition on our project. Some operators in other countries are able to sell lower-speed ADSL (and even fiber) subscriptions without the other 2 parts of the triple play package. I don't think that consumers here in France would accept that now. If you don't have a compelling video and phone offer then people simply aren't interested. Offering an up-front triple-play offer is clearly outside the realm of possibilities for me alone with this project. That means that competition will likely force me to team up with someone who can.