Get yourself connected
How to install a phone line and broadband at your French property
Telecoms is a fast-moving service and changing from one company to another brings with it costs, so doing some research before you buy is wise. There are some important differences between what you can buy in the UK and what is available in France – so second home owners will be very interested in line rental and broadband that can be suspended, whereas those buying a permanent home will want the best balance between price and reliable service.
Location, location, location
In today’s internet-connected world, a line without broadband is unlikely to do! High streets in the UK are dying due to online shopping and banking, and once you are used to that, you want it wherever you are.
We have seen a big difference between successful connected gîtes and holiday homes that don’t have a connection. Similarly, properties for sale in ‘internet black holes’ fetch less so it is wise to check availability and broadband speed before you buy.
The availability and speed of broadband varies considerably, but there is no general rule, save to say the more remote the property, the more unlikely that fast broadband will be available. The broadband speed itself will depend on the distance the property is from the local exchange; changing to a different supplier rarely makes a difference.
Use this website to check coverage: degrouptest.com
Buy what you need
Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and competition among telecom companies is fierce. This means that if one company’s services are cheaper than others, there is probably a good reason for it.
The market breaks down into three main groups. The low-price providers include SOSH and Free who are often criticised on the forums for poor customer service.
Then there are the main companies such as Orange, SFR and UK Telecom which each have different offers, with the first two focusing on the French domestic market while UK Telecom offers exclusive services designed for English speakers such as being able to pay in pounds or euros.
Most people will buy on price first, taking other factors into consideration second. This will also include those who run a small business from their home. However, bear in mind that the lowest prices are for ‘domestic’ services and while the pleasure of a low price is appreciated, faults will not be prioritised in the same way business lines are. So if staying connected is essential to business users, a business line should be installed.
Access to the broadband service is shared with others nearby – the more neighbours using their broadband at the same time as you, the slower the speed will be
Until May of 2018, Orange offered a service where the line rental and broadband services could be suspended. To qualify, you had to prove that the services were installed in a second home. The savings were attractive, particularly as your main house did not have to be in France.
UK Telecom is the only company now offering services that can be suspended. This service is available to all customers and broadband services can be suspended for up to four months a year.
A further service is offered by SFR, SOSH Orange, Bouygues and Free, where you simply buy a contract that you cancel when not required. You pay an activation fee and a monthly charge of between €12.99 and €20, and when you wish to cease it, pay a cancellation fee. The fees are similar, with both connection and cancellation charges of €50.
These include call packages but there is a big increase in charges if you have the account for more than 12 months. Also, each time you cease and restart the service, you will have a new telephone number.
On the line
There are three ways of setting up your telephone line. If there is an existing line into the property, or one has been active within the last two years, a remote activation can be ordered. If there has been a line but it’s not been in use for more than two years, an engineer will have to visit the property to reactivate the service.
If there has never been a line to the property, a new installation will require a trench to be dug from the perimeter of the property to the building and a hole drilled in the wall for the engineer to run the cable through. The owner has to do this, and we can provide details about the depth of the trench and so on.
It can take between one and two weeks to activate a line. Whichever your situation, the telephone service only goes to the first telephone point in the property. Additional telephone sockets are usually installed by a qualified electrician, and the owner has the responsibility to maintain the internal cabling.
When you place your order, make sure you get it right first time. For example, if you want to be ex-directory ( liste rouge) make sure this is included as part of your order. If not, you will appear in both the printed and digital directories and stay on there for six months.
There are other services; some free and others costing €1/month. In addition, you can enrol on the Bloctel service which is designed to stop cold sales calls. So discuss these details with your telecom company when placing your order.
The truth about broadband speeds
The result of the ‘speed test’ for any line will always give the fastest speed it can carry. However, all domestic services are ‘contended’, meaning that access to the service is shared with others nearby. The more neighbours using their broadband at the same time as you, the slower the speed will be.
The usual broadband service separates the voice and data traffic using an ADSL filter. This is called a dégroupage partiel service; the customer pays a line rental and a broadband charge. However, if the broadband speed is 2Mbps or faster, they can choose to have all their calls carried over their broadband service. This is called a dégroupage total service. There is a significant cost advantage as while the broadband charge is slightly higher, there is no monthly line rental to pay. So the better service actually costs less!
To get the best performance out of your broadband, you will need to think about where you locate your modem. It is always best to find a central location and most definitely avoid kitchens (microwaves and white goods disrupt signals), TVS and mirrors, all of which will affect the performance of modems close to them. If you have a large property or thick stone walls, you may need to use a wifi extender to reach some parts.
A further general point about speed concerns the increasing use of wifi. Do make sure you use your security code to stop others nearby using your service and slowing it down. Also, remember to disconnect each ipad, laptop, smartphone etc from the wifi when not in use. If you don’t, the speed will be slower.
If things go wrong
There is a lot of equipment between your telephone and modem and the end destination you wish to contact. In most cases, when a problem occurs, the fault is either with a customer’s equipment, the line between them and the local exchange, or with equipment at the exchange.
The most important thing is to protect your telephone and modem from power surges; these can destroy modems and they will have to be replaced at the user’s cost. A simple power surge protector is all that is needed and it will cost a lot less than a new modem. Also, if you are going to be away for any length of time, it is good practice to unplug phones and modems.
If there is a damaged telephone line or failed equipment at the local exchange, it will typically take three days for the fault to be resolved. The engineers who undertake this work are contracted to deal with faults in the order that they are reported, as part of the requirement to ensure no one company can profit at the expense of others. So it doesn’t matter which company you use, the speed of the engineer response will be the same. However, good customer service will identify more quickly the nature of the fault and speed up the repair process.
While any loss of service is unwanted, do remember that no telecom company can make any profit on services that are not working, so they are as interested as you to get things working quickly. If you really feel that you have had poor service, do not change suppliers in the middle of a fault. If you do, the existing fault will be removed from the list and your new supplier will have to start all over again!
We are about halfway through a major investment in the French telecom network, and while you may have non-existent or slow broadband, speed improvements to the equipment in the local exchanges are taking place every day. Your local mairie or your telecom company will be able to tell you about any improvements that will be made in the near future. This might lead to faster speed or an upgrade to your current service.
Eventually, all telephone calls will be carried by the broadband service, or an alternative if you are in a particularly difficult area. The same is happening in the UK, with BT having a target date of 2025 to complete the upgrades. France plans to complete them before this date, so you can look forward to better services and coverage.
With a ‘dégroupage total’ service, the broadband charge is higher but there is no monthly line rental to pay – so the better service actually costs less!