French ISP Free offers fiber customers 1Gbps upgrade for no cost

French service undercuts Google's Kansas offering by almost 60 percent

Customers of French ISP Free will soon see their fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connections upgraded from 100Mbps to 1Gbps, with no change to the monthly fee of €36 (US$50) including tax.

The service includes 197 free TV channels, nationwide Wi-Fi access, free national and international phone calls and rental of a set-top box containing a network fileserver, a digital video recorder and a Blu-ray Disc player. Download speed is 1Gbps and upload speed 200Mbps. Free said those speeds are guaranteed because the necessary bandwidth is dedicated to each customer, while other companies using shared bandwidth can only offer speeds "up to" a certain amount.

Last month, rival French ISP SFR said it would increase speeds for some fiber customers on request to 300Mbps, and that it is testing 1Gbps transmission in some areas.

Fiber customers are not the only ones being offered free upgrades: Free also said it would increase speeds for VDSL customers to 36-100Mbps downstream, depending on their distance from the switch. Customers need to be within 1.2 kilometers of the switch to benefit from such speeds. Upload speeds vary from 1.6Mbps for those 1.2km away to 24Mbps or more for those within 300 meters.

Free made its move shortly after U.S. operator AT&T said it will offer a 1Gbps fiber service to residents of Austin, Texas.

AT&T did not publish pricing for its service but Google has already announced plans to offer FTTH there at prices similar to the gigabit fiber it already offers in Kansas City. That service costs $120/month plus taxes for 1Gbps up and down, and includes set-top boxes, a Nexus 7 tablet, 1TB of storage for cloud services including Gmail and Google Drive, and access to some TV channels. Packages of additional TV channels cost up to $40. An Internet-only option is also available for $70 plus tax.

Google's FTTH deployment is limited to two cities for now, and roll-out, while more extensive, is far from nationwide in France. Customers report that Free is offering service in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Nantes and Toulouse.

The government has set a goal of making FTTH available in all the major urban areas by 2020. Operators including Free, SFR and Orange (formerly France Télécom) are sharing or co-financing the necessary infrastructure so that customers have a choice of supplier.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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