Practical work will soon start for Orange, as part of its plan to close its copper network, on which ADSL Internet access is based. The incumbent operator, which in December 2019 indicated its desire to withdraw from the copper network, to switch to a fiber optic infrastructure, wants to get started next year.
And in this context, the operator is already in the process of choosing the municipalities which will be the first to experience the closure of the local copper loop — that is to say the portion of the network which exists between the Internet user’s telephone line and the local exchange. The end date of this first batch would be very gradual, with several milestones until the end.
A shift that affects 42 million locals
In a document sent to the telecommunications regulator (Arcep) on July 29, 2022, Orange gave a provisional timetable, which organizes this transition until the end of 2030. The plan comprises four phases (announcement of the commercial end, then the effective termination of the offer, followed by two similar steps, this time on the technical part).
This document, transmitted during the public consultation on this closure of its copper network, expects a changeover which would affect almost 42 million premises throughout the country, based on the estimates of the regulatory authority in one of its 2021 observatories. It is really from 2025 that the Orange plan must take off.
Orange has already carried out a first experiment with the closure of the network to follow between 2020 and 2021, on a set estimated at 700 premises. A second experiment has been underway since mid-2021 and will end on January 31, 2023, with the technical closure of the network. This time, the sample covers approximately 15,000 premises.
The switchover of the network is taking place in parallel with the rise in power of optical fiber in the country. According to the telecoms regulator’s observatory, in the first quarter of 2022, there were more than 15.4 million premises with end-to-end fiber access. As for DSL offers, they fell below the bar of 11.4 million subscriptions.
The deployment of optical fiber is organized through the France Very High Speed plan, which aims to connect the whole country with this type of link by 2025. But faced with the possible delays of this vast project and the persistence copper links in places, Orange’s plan to close this network is progressing on a parallel schedule, which runs until 2030.
Maintain the maintenance of the copper network despite everything
Moreover, recalls Arcep during a progress report, Orange must precisely show flexibility in the application of its plan, and make it evolve ” according to feedback from the first closure zones “. After the second experiment at the end of 2023, a first batch of 170,000 housing units must go through it, for closure between November 2022 (commercial) and November 2023 (technical).
Despite the end of the copper network, Orange has an obligation to continue to maintain and optimize it. An obviously paradoxical situation for the group: it has to take care of a network that will be abandoned in the long term, while whipping, like the other operators, to deploy fiber optics. But this is the legacy of its status as an incumbent operator.
At the time, the regulator also recalled that the copper network, even if its use is declining, ” continues to welcome the majority of users and its quality of service remains a structural issue, especially in areas without fiber optic networks “. And even if fiber optics is today in the lead, ADSL is still a very widespread mode of access.