Orange, the European service provider giant best known for being the French incumbent operator, has been investing heavily in its broadband networks in Spain in recent years -- its capex bill in Spain alone was nearly €1.1 billion last year -- and that spending has been paying off: At the end of 2016, Orange Spain had nearly 4 million fixed broadband customers, of which 1.6 million were FTTH customers (double the number from a year earlier).
And the investment isn't drying up: The operator intends to invest
more than €3 billion ($3.26 billion) in its Spanish infrastructure during the 2017-2019 timeframe.
UBB2020 spoke recently to Yves Bellego, director, Europe Networks at Orange, to discuss the company's plans in Spain, its investment goals and the challenges Orange and its competitors face. Read on for Bellego's answers to our emailed questions:
UBB2020: What technologies and standards are you using for the broadband implementations?
Yves Bellego: On fiber optics, Orange is deploying FTTH (fiber to the home). On 4G, the deployment is made by upgrading existing macro radio sites from 2G/3G to 4G. There is very limited deployment of small cells, this is only in specific cases such as stadiums, airports or railway stations, etc.
UBB2020: What timeframe does this incorporate? From the release (in Spanish) I saw (linked above), it appears to be allocated through 2019 but that seems very fast… Is the timetable 2020 or another year entirely?
A Framework of Success
All Orange companies use the same architecture, design and suppliers to build their FTTH networks, says Yves Bellego, director, Europe Networks at Orange.
YB: Orange Spain invests roughly €1 billion ($1 billion) every year (€1.086 billion -- $1.18 billion -- in 2016), mainly in networks -- fixed and mobile. The €3 billion mentioned in the recent announcement therefore spans over several years.
UBB2020: What is the ultimate goal of this investment?
YB: On FTTH, the target is 14 million households by end 2019. On 4G, the target is 95% of population covered by the end of 2017.
UBB2020: What are the biggest challenges Orange faces in the Spanish market?
YB: As in other countries, one significant challenge that we face is the pace of evolution. There are many evolutions that need to be deployed at the same time in the networks: FTTH, 4G coverage, network capacity and throughput, voice over IP, TV enhancements. This can pose a challenge in terms of investment but also in project management because we need to ensure that we continue to provide good quality coverage for our customers while we are transforming our networks.
UBB2020: How do these compare with other nations and/or regions?
YB: These challenges are similar in other European countries where Orange operates.
UBB2020: How much of Orange's design, implementation, etc., has to be customized for each region/customer versus using the same methodology?
YB: Regarding UBB networks, we deploy mainly FTTH networks. There are some differences between countries (regulation, competition, content and TV rights...) but the technologies that we deploy are the same. We use the same architecture, design and suppliers in the various countries.
UBB2020: How has that process evolved over time and tech advances? Is Orange finding it can reuse more intellectual property, knowledge and processes as compared with a year ago?
YB: The standardization and reuse of similar processes/tools/solutions is increasing over time. One strong driver is the cost of deployment and the benefit of scale.
UBB2020: As a multi-national service provider, how does Orange share best practices for broadband implementations and design?
YB: There are various steps to share expertise between countries. First, several activities are performed at group level before implementing in countries: this includes research activities, lab trials and POC (proof of concept), sourcing and suppliers' management. The architecture and design is also developed at group level, with adaptations by countries’ teams. We have also defined at group level, a set of tools and processes that are reused between countries. Finally, the sharing of expertise is organized between operational teams in countries.
UBB2020: What will be the most important technological advance that Orange will use in Spain?
YB: There are many evolutions in parallel. One significant step that Orange Spain demonstrated at Mobile World Congress 2017, is the support of 10 Gbit/s symmetrical thanks to XGS-PON technology.
UBB2020: What skillsets are most valuable in this era of next-generation broadband?
YB: The skillsets that are developing are related to security management and software. The latter to deliver the transformation of networks virtualization.
UBB2020: How does Orange recruit and retain top broadband talent?
YB: Being active in research, standardization and network deployment, in Western [and] Eastern Europe and Africa, we can propose a large variety of job positions and evolution opportunities. As an example, someone can join Orange for a PhD and later contribute to a European research project, to worldwide standardization or evolve towards operational activities. We have close to 8,000 research and innovation employees.
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.