France is Europe's leading producer of optical fibre.

Paris, 29 September 2010

As the regulatory framework governing ultra-fast broadband in France is in the process of being finalised, ARCEP has been keen to improve its knowledge of the sector's manufacturers and, more generally, of all the enterprises that make up the optical fibre ecosystem.

  • Two international optical fibre producers have a strong presence in France: Draka in the town of Douvrin (Pas-de-Calais department) and Acome in the town of Mortain (Manche).

After visiting the Acome plant on 24 June 2010, the Director General of ARCEP, Philippe Distler, and Chairman, Jean-Ludovic Silicani, accompanied by several ARCEP staff members, travelled to the Pas-de-Calais department last week to visit the Douvrin plant, and to meet with the company's directors and the presidents of two of the sector's trade associations, SYCABEL (electric and communication wire and cable manufacturers trade union) and FIEEC (federation of electrical, electronic and communication industries).

  • It is important for ARCEP to have a proper understanding of the FTTH technologies and equipment used by the operators, since this is information that will enable it to shape the regulatory framework governing fibre rollouts in a relevant fashion

The Chairman of ARCEP believes that, "It's essential that ARCEP travel out into the field. These trips and the discussions between ARCEP and manufacturers help to complete the daily interaction between the regulator and operators, which in turn helps us better define our regulation".

To give an example, the Chairman of ARCEP and his colleagues were able to make the following observations during this visit:

- 720 fibres can be housed in a single cable with a diameter of 16 mm; each fibre will eventually enable virtually unlimited access rates and, at the outset, symmetrical speeds of 100Mbit/s;

- fibre occupies roughly five to six times less space in civil engineering conduits than the old copper cables: an optical cable containing 144 fibres measures less than 10 mm in diameter;

- thanks to a complex "alchemy" between the different types of glass and protective coatings, manufacturers are now able to make the fibre cables flexible, which means they can run along walls and baseboards and withstand extreme twisting, even though the optical fibre is still made of glass, a fragile a breakable substance;

- because of how fine the fibre is, the width of the cable is not proportionate to the number of cables it houses: a cable of 36 fibres has a diameter of around 7mm, a cable of 144 fibres a diameter of around 10 mm, and a cable containing 720 measures roughly 16 mm in diameter. Quadrupling the number of fibres does therefore not require a cable four times as wide, but only 1.5 times as wide, with the cable remaining very thin and considerably narrower than the cable used in the copper local loop.

  • Reaffirmation of the priority given to fibre

The Chairman of ARCEP took this opportunity to reaffirm that ultra-fast broadband was "ARCEP's top priority". Mr. Silicani added that, "we are using all of our existing resources to step up optical fibre rollouts, as it represents the most future-proof solution for increasing available access rates in a lasting fashion".

He also explained that, "the contribution made by the sector's manufacturers will be crucial to triggering the virtuous circle of decreased unit costs and amplified deployments, which will be beneficial to everyone: by reducing fibre installation costs, their capacity to innovate with both the equipment and installation techniques will play a decisive role".

Addressing himself to the manufacturer representatives on hand, Mr. Silicani added, "To ensure that your commitment to innovation is a fruitful one, I invite you to take a proactive approach to proposing solutions to operators and local authorities,"

  • Essential role played by training

The ARCEP Chairman continued by underscoring the role of training: "Human resources are a key part of the costs of an optical network, and can become a bottleneck in production output. To prevent this from happening, public authorities and economic stakeholders need to pool their efforts to facilitate the training and recruitment of this personnel".

Noteworthy in this area is the example of the training centre for people working in the field of ultra-fast broadband in Mortain, in the Manche department in France, as part of a public-private partnership between manufacturer, Acome, and the combined district council and region of Baie du Mont Saint Michel. The only one of its kind in Europe, this centre of expertise in ultra-fast broadband is operated through an agreement with Novea, a neighbouring association devoted to innovation. The agreement between Acome and Novea is making it possible to train hundreds of people a year: technicians, installers, inspectors and engineers, as well as architects, product designers/testers, property managers, etc.

When visiting the town of Mortain this past June to attend the "Ultra-fast broadband festival," which Acome hosts every year, Philippe Distler, the Director-General of ARCEP, had agreed to sponsor the first graduates of the one-year "ultra-fast broadband networks and services technician" training programme, all of whom have already all found a job.


APPENDIX

PROFILE of the optical fibre plants in France

1/ Draka plant in Douvrin
The optical fibre (for use in telecommunications networks) manufacturing plant in Douvrin is the largest of its kind in Europe, and one of the five or six largest in the world. This industrial establishment, which has a staff of around 400 - ranging from skilled workers to R&D engineers - produces more than 50,000 kilometres of telecoms optical fibre a day, or half the global production for manufacturer Draka, a Dutch multinational and the world's second largest supplier of optical fibre.

Draka Communications' Optical Fibre Division, which has manufacturing facilities (wholly-owned plants and joint-ventures) on four continents, supplies 18% of the world's fibre: a market of 180 million km of fibre consumed each year, of which 100 million in Asia where China singlehandedly accounts for half of the global market. A rarity for a European manufacturer, the company's European production units export their products to China as local production capacity is not yet high enough to meet demand.

The plant in Douvrin is the main production site for Draka's Optical Fibre Division, in addition to being an R&D centre and a decision-making centre. Housed on a 15-hectare site, the plant occupies close to five hectares of buildings, of which 70% are cleanrooms. The manufacturing site in France employs the company's most advanced, fully patented procedures. It was at the Douvrin site that Draka recently installed a new generation of production machines which were designed by its own engineers, and so making France home to the latest and most powerful optical fibre production technology.

2/ The ACOME plant in Mortain
Operating as a "Scop" (société cooperative de production) - a cooperative enterprise where the employees hold the majority of the company's share capital - with a staff of 1,350 people, the ACOME group is a French manufacturer that operates an integrated optical fibre, optical fibre cable and copper cable production unit. The group has four production sites around the world, the largest one being in Mortain in the La Manche department. With a staff of 1,000, in addition to large-scale production capabilities, the site in Mortain also houses and R&D centre and engineering facilities, the group's logistics division and the CETHD (Centre d'Expertise du Très Haut Débit) ultra-fast broadband centre of expertise experimental platform.

ACOME is one of Europe's four largest producers of single-mode optical fibre. It has a production capacity of more than 3 million cabled fibres a year. The company also supplies solutions for ultra-fast broadband network rollouts: FTTH, CATV, FTTx, xDSL, for all sorts of environment and outdoor infrastructure (installations in conduits, on building facades, in sewers, overhead, buried, along motorways, railways, subways, etc.), and for risers inside buildings.

In 2009, ACOME reported consolidated sales of €267 million, of which 50% in the telecommunications market, and more than half outside of France.


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