When it comes to broadband speed, it’s a question of giving customers what they want rather than what they need, according to a senior Orange executive.
The topic was on the lips of many at this week’s Broadband World Forum, where Swisscom launched up to 500Mbps speeds with G.Fast and BT talked up a trial that enabled it to deliver 40Gbps, 10Gbps and 2.5Gbps speeds simultaneously on a single fibre into the premise.
Yet the Swiss operator’s CTIO and the CIO of Openreach both said at the event that 80-100MBps served customers well currently.
Asked whether subscribers really need the multi-gigabit speeds being talked about, Orange’s Director of Technical and Network Strategy, Yves Bellego, told European Communications: “The question is not what they need but what they want and what they're prepared to pay for it.”
He cited the example of Poland, where Orange launched 40Mbps and 80Mbps offers.
“[These speeds] should be sufficient but the competition was providing 200Mbps and customers went for the higher offer whether they needed it or not,” Bellego said.
He agreed it was all about marketing and that it was “easier” for customers to understand speed.
“We have customers in France who do speed tests. When they see they get 800Mbps, they post a picture on Twitter,” Bellego said.
He rejected the notion that the logical conclusion of this was that operators are investing more than they need to in broadband infrastructure.
“We do it for the long term,” he said.
Unlike peers in the UK and Switzerland, Orange has decided to deploy FTTH at a large scale.
It has passed over five million premises in France and eight million in Spain.
In terms of actual customer numbers, it has 1.2 million across both countries.
Although the received wisdom is that FTTH is future proof, Bellego was happy to discuss the challenges Orange has faced with its deployment.
He said the time to deploy the technology was “over a year”, which “doesn’t fit” with what customers want.
By way if contrast, Openreach CIO Peter Bell said G.Fast could be deployed in three-to-six months.
Bellego said Orange was not expected to reduce its deployment time “in the short term”.
Once in the home, Bellego suggested customers were not keen on the amount of work that needed to be done to install the tech.
He estimated that 20-25 percent of sales were lost due to this two years ago.
Today, Orange thinks the problems are less to do with the access network and more to do with the home network.
The operator’s Senior Vice President of Orange Labs Networks, Alain Maloberti, gave a keynote presentation at the summit where he described content delivery as “a bottleneck”.
He said enabling Gbps speeds in the home required upgrades to “many elements”, from end devices to the home gateway.
Wi-Fi was one area in particular that needed work, with Bellego stating that standardisation of the technology needed to improve.
Bellego also floated the possibility of sending technicians out to set-up the network in the home.
This is something that O2 UK is doing in a bid to persuade customers to sign up to its new smart home service.
Bellego said improving the home network was something all the players – telcos, set-top box manufacturers, Wi-Fi providers – need to “figure out” together.
He remains upbeat. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised that there is consensus around [this] here at Broadband World Forum," he said.