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How to make a success of fiber deployment

How to make a success of fiber deployment

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Jean Benoit Leclercq

The acceleration of fiber deployment requires the creation of a reliable ecosystem to federate external players and operators. Over the region covered by the Orange West Division, based in Rennes, there are few participants and they are not easily interchangeable. Openness, complementarity and partnership are the conditions necessary for success.

Who is actually involved in an FTTH deployment project?

There are four types of player: 

Local authorities and central government who see fiber as a driver of economic and social development and a way of making territories more attractive. Elected representatives are increasingly impatient to create large-scale, homogeneous networks.

Electricity companies who share their nationwide networks with us.

Subcontractors are essential to execute different tasks.

More than 200 Orange staff in the West Division: production teams, contract managers, supervisors, subcontracting managers, operating personnel, data quality managers, and all the associated technical services.

What is the biggest challenge in a fiber project?

Fiber projects take two years, so we always have to deal with the impatience of public officials and the investing companies – and future end-users as well! Building a solid, reliable ecosystem takes time and we always have to manage this pressure throughout the project. It’s important to anticipate needs in order to ensure reasonable work stability for subcontractors. In parallel, we verify the availability of material and human resources and manage shortages.

What kind of shortages? Financial or material?

The main difficulties are mainly due to the accelerating schedule, with production increasing by 30 to 40% every year. This leads to shortages of manpower and materials across the country. Strong demand for fiber connectivity has changed our relations with subcontractors who have become very choosy: they no longer see us as a client but as a partner. They make us wait until we can guarantee a certain volume of work over several years and gradual growth of demand to enable them to procure the personnel and equipment they will need.

How do you manage this shortage?

We develop skills. Externally, we make partnerships with schools to train and then hire fiber technicians and fiber contract managers. And we train Orange personnel in-house to support this transformation of our activity.

We prioritize our deployment to be sure we have the necessary equipment and we propose plans that aim to reconcile the region’s political ambitions with Orange’s commercial challenges. To guarantee the profitability of a project, it is important to carefully manage the investments over time and to rapidly generate revenues in order to reassure our financial backers. Our revenues come mainly from customer subscriptions and capacity sold to other ISPs. To maximize our chances of good revenues, we seek zones where appetency for fiber appears highest. Our prioritization is based on fine analysis of INSEE socioeconomic data for France and our own knowledge of prospects and customers. We share these analyses with Local Authorities and other stakeholders so they can understand why we give priority to specific zones. Finally, the commercialization of our offers is supported by geomarketing tools developed specially by Orange and employed taking into account our operational realities.

Do deployment projects succeed better in certain zones?

Projects tend to move faster when we succeed in building trust-based relations with our subcontractors, local authorities and the operator. Conflictual situations are rare because fiber tends to federate elected officials of all political colors who agree on its benefits.

Difficulties that sometimes arise are generally due to technical or communication errors. Citizen may
create associations that delay the project when the public authorities
have not made the effort to dialog with them and explain the logic of the investments. An operator may make a poor technical choice or the authorities may fail to manage the civil engineering work properly.

Do public/private complementarities exist in fiber projects in your region?

Six Public Initiative Networks (PIN) are now operating in the region. Orange West is a customer of four of them as an Internet service provider, and we act as a rollout subcontractor for three of them.

How do you coordinate all the stakeholders?

For this purpose we have created several continuous animation structures. At meetings of local PIN management committees, information and schedules are shared and everyone is kept up to date on the progress. A Strategic Subcontracting Committee chooses common subcontractors for each contract and closely supervises their workload, being careful to respect their intervention zones and the competition rules. PIN equipment inventories and compliance with legal obligations are checked at weekly meetings. Finally, an Orange engineering team regularly discusses future architectures and technician visits to customers’ homes. This coordination appears so vital for PINs that Orange takes charge of network operation and maintenance in order to guarantee quality of service for customers.

To summarize, what are the structuring factors that make for a successful fiber program?

I would list four key levers:

Build a stable, agile ecosystem jointly with all the stakeholders.

Anticipate shortages of materials and above all of human resources.

Properly manage the dual, complementary roles of PIN operator and Internet service provider.

Supervise the commercialization of fiber offers to generate a return on investment and attain the political goals.