Bouygues Telecom launches its “fiber” offer

France Announced nine months ago, Bouygues Telecom's BBox Fibre offer will be available in France starting today, November 2nd. Bouygues Telecom will lease a bitstream type circuit from French cable player Numéricable to access the end-customers. After having made some news a few months back about the regulatory framework for shared in-building deployment – suggesting it might be considering its own deployment – Bouygues Telecom is now back to its original plan of not deploying its own network. There's an article on zdnet France about this entitled Fibre optique : Bouygues Telecom lance son offre avec la FTTB de Numericable

This is potentially the most significant announcement in the world of ultra-high speed broadband in France: the three FTTH players are struggling to deploy, and as a consequence are struggling to acquire customers. Bouygues bets on its brand being capable of overcoming the reservations that Numéricable's own ultra-high speed broadband offering has met on the market. And considering Bouygues Telecom's recent success in DSL customer acquisition and their aggressive quad-play positioning (triple-play plus mobile) they may have a point.

It might however not end up being all that easy. Here are some of the issues I foresee, both for Bouygues Telecom and for the market in general:

Assuming customers actually don't care about the technical infrastructure (which, at this stage is most likely true), then Bouygues Telecom's platform will not be seen as the inferior platform. In fact it might not even be seen as cable, and yet it is. In other words, their offering will be just as challenged on the upstream as Numéricable's has been, and will also be challenged on the download if the recent testing done by Degroupnews is to be trusted. By purchasing a bitstream like offering, Bouygues Telecom will have very little control on the capabilities of the access.

The use of the fiber terminology in the product offering will further undermine the brand value of "fiber" as a marketing term. I'm not sure that's actually a bad thing, but it will mean confusion in customer's minds will reign for a long time on that issue. Incidentally, even Bouygues Telecom seems unclear on this as their general director talks about servicing 8 million homes with the offer immediatelyl even though Numéricable's network only has 4.3 million Docsis 3.0 connexions enabled.

Having said that, Bouygues Telecom is a much more credible threat to Orange and Free (SFR, at this stage, seems to be content with doing even less than the other two when it comes to FTTH deployment and marketing) and could push for an acceleration in both home connections and active marketing by the FTTH guys. Furthermore, the threat now expands from Paris and large city centers (all MDUs) to residential suburbs with detached homes where Orange was so far not very concerned of moving.

Finally, while there are now 5 credible offers for ultra-high speed broadband on the market (counting SFR), there is still little to no differentiated content. Bouygues Telecom announces a strong push on HD TV content, and while I'm not saying that counts for nothing, it certainly isn't *that* differentiating. In other words, all five players are going to hit the wall of customer inertia full-on, and have to seriously rethink their approaches very soon. At least Bouygues Telecom won't have put too much money into this...