Femtosat, but not seamless yet

Covering France has always been a headache for operators : unlike in the UK, population is very much dispersed, and 75 million visitors roam the country every year with a special fondness for bullet trains, mountain hiking, or kayaking down remote valleys.

Curing the great "digital divide" between broadband France and forsaken France became a national cause, local administrations pushing their own agendas to prevent businesses from leaving their regions, and national authorities forcing operators to pool resources in non-telecomly-strategic areas... As of today, total unbundling is available only in 30% of France Telecom POPs, and even Paris is struggling : rolling out FTTH remains a painstaking process from one old building to another.

As far as 3G is concerned, SFR is supposed to cover 90% of the population and 98% by 2012, but remains closer to 80%. Orange is not respecting its own obligations either. Bouygues Telecom ? even further downhill... Many wonder how potential newcomer Iliad Free could roll out a brand new nationwide 3G network...

But for the public, all 3 incumbents are seen as Scrooges : either of the Scrooge McDuck kind, sitting on a mountain of money and refusing to spend it, or of the Ebenezer Scrooge kind, bitterly sitting in the dark while everybody else expects Santa Claus Free Mobile for Christmas.

SFR obviously refused the role and announced two innovations for this week (for the moment, same brand but different worlds) :

=> a Satellite Internet Pack with Eutelsat (from EUR 29.90 / month for a not so broad band - max 3.6 Mbps and 4.7 GB -, but unlimited browsing between 11 pm and 7 am)

=> a femtocell quad play booster, Home 3G (via SHD, a.k.a. Société du Haut Débit, a SFR / Neuf Cegetel unit). Theoretically, Home 3G's EUR199 adaptor can be plugged on any ADSL box, but not all equipments will be compatible :

4 SFR 3G subscribers will be able to communicate at the same time on the same femtocell, but if they fully enjoy the service from day one, they may adapt their usage after receiving the first bill... and reconsider the virtues of the ADSL box they had in the first place.

Nevertheless, the best defense is a good offense, and being the first to strike at the macro and micro level necessarily paves the way for the next steps.

mot-bile 2009

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