- The incumbent operator Orange will "disconnect" its copper network by 2030 everywhere in France, forcing the whole country to switch to fiber.
- The copper network is no longer sized to support daily flows and often suffers from humidity, generating outages for customers.
- Copper theft is also a scourge that leads to long network outages for affected customers.
The oldest were held in the 1950s to deploy what was then only a modest telephone network. Battered by the Second World War, the France was barely recovering and few residents had a telephone at home. The gradual arrival of the copper network would change everything. Responsible for circulating telephone conversations before operating faxes and the now retired Minitel, the orange communication network then adapted to the arrival of the Internet to bring broadband to millions of households. Seventy-five years after the installation of the first copper cables by the PTT, the network is about to be gradually shut down. Heckled by the performance of fiber, the copper network will have completely disappeared by 2030, Orange promised.
After a few tests, the telephone operator obtained the green light from Arcep, the telecoms watchdog, to dismantle its copper network in seven districts of Rennes (see box) and in 162 other municipalities more or less dense. Spread across France, these communities will see their copper network shut down on March 31, 2025, at the same time eliminating ADSL offers that the youngest among you have probably never known. What for? "Because the network is reaching the limit of its capacity. We have pushed it, increased in flow and power but we can not do better, "explains Jean-Marc Escalettes, director of Orange West.
Faced with fiber optics, copper is no longer the weight. Slower, he hates water, regularly causing Internet or TV cuts during rainy episodes. Under these conditions, it is impossible to support the new uses of video streaming, teleworking or multi-screen. Above all, maintaining the network is expensive. "We recorded 350,000 interventions in 2022 related to bad weather in Brittany alone," explains the regional director.
The end of copper theft for operators?
Announced in 2019, the removal of the metal that has become precious will also prevent theft. Every year, miles of cable are stolen from operators. Bought between 8,000 and 9,000 euros per tonne when it is new, copper is sold at 4,000 euros per tonne on the parallel network. "It costs us a lot and it can deprive residents of the network for several days or even weeks," says Jan Charny, who leads the withdrawal project at Orange. Since fiber is made of glass, it is not sought after by thieves. The withdrawal of the copper network will also allow the incumbent operator to return the raw material to recycling associations. Finally, the abandonment of the old network will reduce the carbon footprint: fiber has an energy consumption three to four times lower than that of copper.
Before pulling on its cables, the telephone operator will have to alert its customers. It will stop marketing ADSL offers in 2024 in order to alert its subscribers to the gradual disappearance of broadband. Its competitors Bouygues, Free and SFR will have to do the same. There would remain in France more than 22 million active lines, all operators combined. While some are little or not used, others feed alarm systems or elevator emergency calls that will have to adapt.
There are also a significant number of households in the country that are not connected to fibre. For most of them, the disappearance of copper will force them to change their formula. "We need to make this clear to some of our customers, especially the older ones. In two years, their phone will have to go through fiber, "explains Jean-Marc Escalettes. The director of Orange West assures that the offer will not cost more for the subscriber and that his company will cover the connection costs. It is unclear what the policy of other operators will be.
Rennes, first major city in test
The first "batch" validated by Arcep concerns 162 French municipalities, which tend to be medium-sized or small. The first major city to experiment with the abandonment of copper will be Rennes. From 2025, seven districts of the cradle of Minitel will see their old network disappear, i.e. 16,000 homes. In this area alone, 5,000 copper lines are still active. Users have two years to "switch" to fiber. In case of technical impossibility, alternatives by satellite or mobile network will be proposed.
- Bouygues Telecom
- Telecom operators
- Optical fiber