Thursday, October 16, 2008

Business problems - Un problème de l'entreprise

I ran into a bit of a problem registering the fiber business. Everything is ready to go (bank, documents, etc) but there is a lingering question about my work status here in France. I have a peculiar visa which likely won't allow me to be the person running it, the "gerant".

I think I've found another solution though. I'm going to start a non-profit fiber "association" in the village instead of a business. From discussions with my lawyer friends I think I have the right to work with a non-for-profit association as long as I'm not paid.

One of the big differences for me will be tied to the money I put in. The money I put into a non-profit venture could be repaid (possibly with interest) but nothing more than that. I gave it some thought and had to think back to the reasons I started this project. I want to have a fiber connections to our homes, but even more, I want the experience of planning and installing a fiber network. Profit or no profit the mission is the same.

I'll do some research this weekend about starting the association and post my findings.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Too late for changes - Trop tard pour les changements

I received great advice from the Dutch about how municipal government should build the new exchange next year in order to promote competitive fiber development. The problem is I'm a bit too late.

I received word this weekend that the contract and negotiations with France Telecom were too far advanced for the municipality to be able to make changes. It's too bad that the village will be paying for the construction of the building (for France Telecom's benefit) but won't be able to dictate any new terms for fiber. I'm taken back that an exchange being built anywhere in the world in the year 2009 would lack space for competitive fiber equipment.

Hopefully other villages poised to give EUR 50,000 to France Telecom will be able to use the excellent advice I received from my Dutch friends to promote fiber competition in the future.

This means that I'll have to approach this a different way - possibly with a separate fiber shelter next to the copper exchange. Each of the competitive operators has fiber passing through the exchange already so we'd simply have to put the fiber shelter next to this line so they'd be able to interconnect easily.

I'll work on setting up a meeting with the competitive operators this week to discuss a plan.

Planning a new exchange / La planification pour un nouveau commutateur

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, one of the key items in our village may be the design of the new telecommunications exchange they are building next year. I wrote to some Dutch friends (fiber experts) asking for their advice on a number of key questions.

Here is my attempt to paraphrase their answers:

  1. Question:
    Would it be better to build a separate exchange for fiber next to the copper exchange or to put the ODF in the same physical building?

    It is extremely important that the incumbent operator can't "hold anyone hostage" if fiber is going to terminate in the same building as copper. There are a number of points to consider in such a case:

    • There needs to be a room which is separate from the main DSL equipment and that is accessible from the outside for the ODF and fiber interconnection. This room needs to be large enough to accommodate operator's active equipment if necessary.

    • The municipality needs to have the key and control access rights to this room.

    • There needs to be a conduit from the room to the perimeter of the land owned by the incumbent and this needs to be large enough to accommodate all the fiber coming in (see size questions below).

    • There needs to be a separate power supply from France Telecom - essentially a second meter for the municipality to the room.

    • The room needs to be large enough to house a UPS and air conditioning if necessary.

    • There needs to be a hole in the wall between the fiber room and the ISP's equipment which is large enough to pass 3000+ fibers (1500 households x 2 + some spare)

  2. Question:
    How much space in the building/room is necessary to house an ODF?

    One ODF will support 800 fibers and it measures roughly 1 meter x 50 cm, including space for patch cords. You need to be able to access the ODF from the front and the back.

    One 19 inch rack will support the electronics for roughly 400 users, dissipating 3-5 watts per user. The rack needs to be accessible from the front side.

  3. Question:
    In planning for conduit access, how many fibers should we plan on for each home?

    There is no need for more than 2 fibers per residence. The trend is actually moving to one fiber per residence with three colors per fiber (data upload, data download and television). Putting in two fibers at the same time is a good way to hedge your bets though.

  4. Question:
    How much space will we need inside existing conduit to push out point-to-point fiber from the exchange point to the village?

    One of the projects in the Netherlands uses cables with 96 fibers inside. They can bunch 6 of these cables (6 x 96 = 576 fibers) into one 50 mm HDPE duct. It would take 6 of these 50 mm ducts to provide 2 point-to-point fiber connections to each of the 1500 households in the village, with a little to spare.

    Using these numbers, the space we'd need for the conduit leaving the exchange (before disaggregation) would be 100 mm x 300 mm.

As always, I'm grateful to my Dutch friends for their advice.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Working together with the municipal government / Collaboration avec le gouvernement municipal

The meeting today with Bruno DIDIER and Philippe CHIVOT (les maires-adjoints) from the municipal government went extremely well. We spent almost 2 hours talking about the status of broadband development in the village and the best ways to move forward with a fiber project.

There were a number of key issues and developments:

  • The new, upgraded exchange is due to be built early next year

    This is a huge development and is tied to a EUR 50'000 investment by the municipality. The deal is rather complex as I understand it. France Telecom owns the land where the exchange will be built but our local government will pay for the construction of the new building/shelter. After 20 years the building will be deeded back to France Telecom.

    I was never very happy with this arrangement but luckily the papers have not been officially signed and approved. This is excellent news. One of the key points of our discussion in the meeting was how to restructure elements of the deal to accommodate fiber rollouts.

  • Competitive operators likely are coming

    The new exchange will be built to accommodate competitive operators and from the look of it there are some who may be interested in coming with their own equipment. Obviously there are no "done deals" yet but this would be a good sign if it turns out to be correct.

    Operators would install their own DSLAMs for DSL (and hopefully FTTH equipment at the same time) when the exchange opens. For the residents in my area that means DSL speeds at 400 meters, instead of 4500 meters. Others farther up and away from the exchange won't be so lucky but there is a bit of geography in our favor as well. Generally the farther you get from our exchange the more expensive the homes become. That means the most expensive lines would be installed to the most expensive houses where residents could pay more for the installation. All operators already have a fiber presence which passes through the exchange using the Yvelines Numériques backbone.

  • We are all islands (private residences)

    It turns out that St Nom La Bretèche is different than many other French towns because we are largely made up of islands of private residences (where the roads are owned and maintained by the residents). This set-up actually makes rolling out fiber easier because the conduit in each of these private residences belongs to the residents, not France Telecom. The challenge is linking these various islands together by crossing streets or through France Telecom's conduit - and then back down to the exchange.

    We talked about ways to facilitate "bridges" (conduit) between these islands (subdivisions) and the municipal government seems very ready to help. I asked for a list of any proposed work on roads ahead of time so that we could put in manholes and conduit across streets between these "islands" whenever there was work planned.

    The really good thing about the island approach is that each private residence will only have to build out to the nearest "fibered" island and not all the way back to the exchange. it will take some planning to ensure we have enough fibers passing through each residence to ensure point-to-point connections back to the exchange but it is possible.

  • Ensuring the new exchange is "fiber-ready" and open to competition

    As long as the village is going to be footing the bill to build the exchange for France Telecom why not insist on including space for an optical distribution frame which becomes the property of the village? That is one of the nice things about the government paying EUR 50'000 to build something for a private company. They have bargaining leverage. If France Telecom were against the idea the municipality could simply take the 50'000 and build their own public fiber exchange right next to the copper one instead.

    We spent some time talking about the details of what the municipality should require in the deal and I promised to get some feedback from experts in the Netherlands. I'll post their responses.

I left the meeting very excited for the project. The next step is contacting the competitive operators (with the help of the municipality) about putting a workable fiber plan into action.