COUNTRY PROFILE: France: A New Technological Giant



Currently, the New Information and Communication Technology (NICT) sector in
France has more financial muscle than the energy and automotive sectors
combined. This represents a genuine boom that owes a lot to the quality of the
infrastructure put in place long before. In the field of fixed telephony, for
example, France is equipped with a particularly extensive network that covers
the whole of its territory, with just over 34 million lines in operation. This
means that nearly a hundred percent of French households are connected. As for
the mobile phone, its use reached unrivalled levels in France, with a market
penetration level of 43.6 percent. Close to one in two French citizens currently
own one, and a new generation of mobile phones is already upon us–the
so-called third generation, capable of accessing the Internet and allowing the
user to make online purchases or to transmit data, all at very high speed.

High-Speed Access Gives Green Light

The high-speed access market in France is diversifying constantly. There is
now a choice of access via mobile networks, cable networks, analog networks
using ADSL technology by satellite or even by radio local loop. As a result, by
2003, 30 million of Internet access will be high-speed and the transmission of
data will be even faster. And France occupies a leading role in this market. The
cable network is already providing ten million households with access to this
technology.

1998 saw a 175 percent increase in the number of domain names registered,
twice the figure for Great Britain. This boom has at its root, the advancement
of high-speed Internet access; the advantages of all in charging Internet access
via mobile phones and televisions, which ninety five percent of French
households possess. Already won over by twenty years of electronic commerce via
Minitel, the small electronic terminal linked to the telephone that has seduced
more than fifteen million users, the French are already ready to make purchases
over the Internet.

The Internet in France

The strong growth of the Internet in France can also be explained by its
leading position in Europe across all segments of the NICT sector. The France
Telecom group has consequently become a big hitter on the world market, mainly
due to the construction of a special network with future web surfers, and by
positioning itself in the Internet access markets of its European neighbors
(purchases of Orange and Freeserve, participation, acquisition of Global
one…). France Telecom is also a presence in the transport of data, content
publication and electronic commerce. Other companies, both start-ups and
established ones, have been swept along by the force of their success: nearly
one and a half million people currently work in the NCIT sector in France.

Conquering the Internet

The progress in the field of telecommunications has resulted in the Internet
access market in France really taking off, with more than seven million people
now regularly surfing the web (nearly half of whom live in Paris and its
surrounding areas!). This figure looks set to reach eleven million during 2001.

The Internet Hits the Street

But Internet access in France is not just the preserve of office workers. In
Paris, as in many other cities, the Internet is well established and can be seen
flourishing in the cyber cafés, which keep the population up to date with the
web. For a nominal fee, or sometimes free of charge, it is possible to surf the
web all over the capital. Even at peak hours, traffic is not obstructed since
all the cyber cafes benefit from high-speed access!

Behind the web or the mobile phone lies a whole infrastructure made up of
terrestrial and undersea cables, satellites and fiber optic networks. Without
them there would be no transmission of data. In these fields, two primarily
French companies have become leaders in their respective markets.

Alcatel, present in 130-countries, world leader in ADSL equipment, fiber
optics, terrestrial and undersea networks, is also one of the world’s leading
satellite manufacturers. Eighty five percent of the groups’ turnover comes
from the telecom sector, amounting to more than nineteen million Euros. By
allocating more than ten percent turnover (some 2 billion Euros) to R&D,
Alcatel is giving itself the best possible chance of remaining at the cutting
edge of this sector in constant technological evolution, particularly in the
filed of space investigation.

Satellites play a primary role in the telecommunications infrastructure:
televisions, radios, mobile telephony, meteorology… (almost) everything comes
through them. The design and launch of satellites is a highly
specialized market in which Arianspace, through twenty years of activity,
has launched 170-satellites into orbit on behalf of more than forty five client
countries. The proud success has continued for twenty years, thanks to massive
investment in new launchers: on 15 November 2000, the new Ariane 5 rocket,
placed into orbit two of the largest geostationary telecommunications satellites
in the world.

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