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With today’s demands to be constantly connected ... that pressing email to send, a Facebook update to make, or that latest product to search out and buy, a good internet connection is essential to keep everyone in the family or the office happy. Good internet connectivity also opens up possibilities for all those services that make life a bit more rewarding, services like watching catch-up TV or listening to your favourite radio stations from home, Skyping or FaceTiming family and friends. For those who have subscription TV in one country, they can watch and control their TV across the web by “place shifting”. Other possibilities include, of course, watching over a property and remote monitoring the house.
There are many options when it comes to the availability of internet connectivity on the Côte d’Azur. The standard internet packages provided by telecommunications companies are the most readily available and are priced for the general public. The same is true of those supplied over the air but they tend to be slower, more variable in performance and have a data cap. For greater speed and or consistency, leased lines and fibre are available but they can come with a price tag. 3G has a patchy coverage, variable and relatively slow speeds, but 4G should be around the corner. Internet by satellite remains a possibility for those that want the speed of DSL but are not serviced by the standard ADSL packages available. The choice is yours.
Options with physical connection (via cable or copp)
The standard provision for domestic internet services is ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), although cable can be found in larger towns and cities. ADSL and cable tend to be offered as part of a bundle of services, which may include television, inclusive calls and mobile phones. For ADSL, as some of these services depend on the local telephone exchange, a modernised exchange is necessary and it is possible to de-group from France Telecom. Cable is generally independent from France Telecom. The speed available depends on the distance from the exchange and “contention” ie: the number of people sharing the capacity of the line. A combination of these factors affects the performance of the internet speed dramatically, and both ADSL and cable suffer from similar limitations. Speeds for ADSL are advertised at up to 28 Mbit/s download and 1 Mbit/s upload but in reality the provision is a fraction of this and it can change throughout the day. Cable promotes higher speeds but in reality suffers from contention and can drop dramatically in the evenings.
If ADSL is not working for you, a number of solutions are available.
The French Riviera offers a choice of leased line suppliers running SDSL (Symmetric Digital Subscriber Line). SDSL differs from ADSL in that it has an upload speed which is the same as its download speed. In addition, the bandwidth is dedicated and is typically supplied at 2 Mbit/s and generally does not come supplied as a bundled service. The installation costs around 2000 to 3000 euros, including a survey, with a monthly charge of between 200 to 400 euros there after.
Fibre is generally available in large cities such as Nice, Cannes and Antibes, but coverage is still patchy. Special installations are possible outside the publicised areas but these come at a premium. Typical speeds are up to 100 Mbit/s. Outside the advertised areas installation typically costs 6000 to 8000 euros and 1000 to 2000 euros per month there after.
Over the Air
3G (3rd Generation) refers to wireless data and voice communication that we is typically associate with mobile phones. 3G coverage tends to follow main roads or thoroughfares, so coverage is good in Nice, Monaco and Antibes, but is patchy in Cannes and the hinterland. The connection speed is greatly affected by contention, and expected speeds are around 0.2 Mbit/s, which, when compared to fixed-line speeds, seems slow. Most carriers in France also put a cap on the amount of data allowed to be downloaded per month – typically about 3GB. This is adequate for checking email on a phone but may be limiting, for example, if you wish to access the internet on a PC.
If you are looking for ways to improve mobile phone reception in your own property, one method is by using “femtocell” a solution available to SFR and Bouygues Telecom customers. You will need an ADSL connection to the property, and the femtocell device enables you to take the call over the ADSL connection.
While 3G coverage and speed continue to improve, 4G (4th Generation), its successor, is in its infancy. Only small pockets of 4G are available in the region, but France is not alone here. 4G in the UK has only been rolled out to 17 cities but roaming between cells is still not possible, so it does not really meet its target of being a mobile data network yet. Some service providers offer internet services using 4G, claiming up to 10 Mbits/s but again you would need to check if your area is covered.
Public Wi-Fi networks are provided by companies like SFR or by metropolitan services. For example, you can find networks in most travel hubs like train stations, airports, as well as restaurants like McDonald’s.
International travellers can use other Wi-Fi networks, such as FON, for example, or roaming agreements but generally this relies on you having a subscription to one of the networks that is affiliated to the available service.
These Wi-Fi networks may be an option if you live in an apartment or a house in close proximity to such a network but the service is not designed for heavy or consistent use. You are not guaranteed a service and you are subject to the vagaries of the level of service around you.
Private wireless connections can be supplied to villas and businesses. These are generally based on long distance dedicated pipes and provide a guaranteed level of service and speed. Cost and coverage are similar to leased line/fibre prices.
Satellite is not just for TV; there are services available for internet, too. The more established services were designed for boats and can be very expensive, but in the last few years high-speed service providers are entering the domestic market competing with standard ADSL providers in price. The main advantage is that you can have high bandwidth internet practically anywhere as long as you can site a dish.
There is a difference in practical terms as your signal is bounced into space before it reaches you but in terms of speed the capacity is there. It is ideal for streaming video and using Skype. Like 3G there is a data cap imposed but this can go up to 50GB and there are download speeds of up to 18 Mbits/s.
Huw Williams has over 15 years experience working in IT with a focus on IP networking and Video over IP. He now specialises in IP Networking, Wi-Fi deployments and business IT services on the Côte d’Azur. See www.wirelessandweb.co.uk