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France's SFR and Free go head to head on 1Gbps fibre as VDSL2 goes national

Both SFR and Free have brought in higher-speed fibre connectivity for customers, and added VDSL offerings alongside.
Written by Anne Morris, Contributor

French citizens impatient for a faster broadband service need wait no longer: SFR and Free both announced on Monday they are offering fibre services with download speeds of up to 1Gbps and upload speeds of up to 200Mbps.

Vivendi-owned SFR said 1.5 million homes will be within range of its fibre service from the end of 2013, with a promotional price of €9.99 per month for a year. Iliad's Free in turn said its fibre to the home service would be available to Free Revolution subscribers at no extra charge. Its existing phone, broadband and TV packages start at €29.99 a month.

The two operators also unveiled new VDSL offerings to complement their fibre rollouts from 1 October, which is the date from which commercial VDSL2 services are permitted on a nationwide basis in France according to French regulator Arcep. Tests have been carried out on the technology in the Dordogne and the Gironde departments since April.

SFR cited information from Arcep that said an upgrade to VDSL2 could give six percent of the 31 million copper lines in France download speeds of more than 30Mbps. Orange, France's biggest telco, has already been investing in VDSL2, equipping 16 percent of its lines in the country with the technology.

SFR said 'Box de SFR' customers with eligible lines would benefit from VDSL technology free of charge and could order the upgrade via their online accounts, while VDSL will be available to new customers subscribing to a €19.99 Multi-Pack plan with a bundled-in mobile plan. Free also said eligible ADSL users will now get higher-speed connections via ADSL2+ or VDSL2 for no extra cost.

However, Free has already come under fire from Arcep for what the regulator describes as misleading information about the two high-speed broadband services. With regard to the fibre, Free is claiming its FTTH offering is far better than the GPON approach being taken by other French operators because each subscriber will receive a dedicated 1Gbps line.

However, Arcep noted that the actual speed not only depends on the access network but also the interconnection infrastructure, and added that customers were still experiencing problems with online video.

Arcep also took issue with Free's claim that its VDSL2 service would provide download speeds of 100Mbps. The regulator said such speeds are purely theoretical, and would not reflect the average experience of customers.

Arcep has said it will closely monitor the introduction of VDSL2 and will review it one year after the nationwide launch.

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