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France Télécom ramps up French residential fiber build-out

The operator wants to reach 10 million households less than five years from now, compared to 750,000 households today

France Télécom is ramping up its investment in deploying fiber to residential buildings, planning to spend €1 billion in France between this year and 2013, the operator said on Tuesday at its Investor Day.

Today, the French incumbent has 66,300 customers accessing the Internet via fiber, and a total of 750,000 households have access to a fiber connection.

The build-out can accelerate thanks to clearer regulation and progress in gaining access to buildings, according to a spokesman at France Télécom. Connecting an apartment building via fiber typically involves siting some network termination equipment in the building. Getting permission from property owners and access to a building to complete that work takes about a year in France, he said.

In 2014 and 2015, the operator will spend about another €1 billion on the roll-out, aiming to reach 10 million French households by 2015 and 15 million, or 60 percent of the market, by 2020, the operator said earlier this year.

In general, incumbent operators in Europe are investing more in fiber to the building. It is not a "mad dash", but controlled roll-out, according to Oliver Johnson, CEO at market research company Point Topic.

France Télécom's goals for its home country are more ambitious than those of the European Commission, which as part of its European Digital Agenda wants to see 50 percent of European households with Internet access at a download speed of at least 100M bps (bits per second) by 2020.

Fiber penetration in Europe is still low, less than 3 percent for the whole continent, according to Point Topic's data. Countries such as Lithuania, Estonia and Iceland have a much higher fiber penetration rate, thanks to heavy subsidies and the small size of those markets, according to Johnson. However, most of the rest of Europe has a more market-led approach.

Many consumers don't yet feel they need a 100M bps connection all to themselves. It will take another three to five years before demand really starts to take off, boosted by the availability of streaming video in high-definition, Johnson said.

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