Our telecoms networks, vital for modern living
The network is a modern-day superhero and essential link for connecting global citizens, families, businesses, governments, schools and students. It has become even more critical in the context of the pandemic, helping us stay in touch, work, teach, maintain our well-being and have a little fun. But what do we know about it?
What is a telecoms network?
In technical terms, a telecommunications network is a collection of transmitters and receivers interconnected by links that are used to exchange messages, whether audio, text or video, all over the world.
More broadly, today’s network has been built up over several generations and several different technologies, developed according to people’s uses, technical advances and scientific progress, and which coexist and complement each other.
Each generation of upgrades results from collective thinking, often at a global level, linked to industrial standards, international or national telecommunications associations and governments. To support this thinking, network engineers and experts draw on in-depth studies around current and future uses.
How networks evolve to support growth or changes in use
Every year, the volume of data exchanged via networks increases by 50%. This growing connectivity is linked to fast-evolving uses:
- Increasing screen use and technology advances have led to an explosion of services such as video on demand, e-learning and immersive experiences for gaming and tourism.
- Added to this are all the connections related to the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence (particularly in industry).
People’s uses are constantly changing and evolving, as we can see in this video that looks back through the 150-year history of telecoms. So networks have to evolve too, to respond to the major social challenges of each generation.
As the current pandemic has shown, networks become even more essential to people’s lives during a crisis. In the first few days alone, we saw a meteoric rise in voice and data consumption. We quickly responded to enable individual and business customers to stay connected to vital services and continue their personal and professional activities.
Networks must be constantly developed and upgraded to meet growing connectivity needs. The objective behind each generation of fixed or mobile network is to anticipate and meet changing needs with the right technical response.
The evolution of network generations linked to the exponential growth in use. While the majority of people access the internet via 4G mobile networks in Africa and the Middle East, in Europe, we’re focusing our investments on deploying fibre and 5G. Network and device developments, along with increases in capacity, aim to keep pace with the increase in uses linked to video and online services.
Another example is PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network), deployed in many countries in the 1970s and still used by people with a conventional copper fixed line. This traditional analogue PSTN network is gradually being replaced with less energy-consuming digital technologies.
The latest developments don’t herald the end of fixed telephony. Operators will still provide telephone services to all regions using Internet Protocol (IP) technology. This system is easier to maintain and more efficient and has therefore become a global standard.
But the fixed network is now being further modernised through wide-scale fibre deployments. We were the first operator in Europe to make fibre to the home central to our strategy across our footprint. At the end of 2019, we reached a level of 39.5 million households connectable to very high-speed broadband, 16.3 million in France, 14.9 million in Spain, 4.2 million in Poland and more than 0.5 million in Slovakia.
At the heart of network evolutions: a global collective
The network infrastructures criss-crossing the world stem from shared expertise and cooperation. Numerous industry associations and organisations are involved in network development. Collaboration is key to ensuring common standards and decisions. For example, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) defines the technical specifications for designing radio communication systems from 2G to 5G, including technologies, devices, the network core and services.
- future networks: technologies and transformation of uses and operator activities around 5G, RCS, virtualisation, e-SIM, IoT and AI.
- digital identity: frictionless transactions, new revenue streams, preventing fraud and protecting personal data (Mobile Connect, national identity services etc).
- new uses: global service interoperability.
- standardisation: contribution to the definition and publication of mobile standards such as LTE and eSIM networks.
- information for public authorities and governments: access to frequencies, fair regulation, digital inclusion.
- cleantech programme.
Founded in 1865, the United Nations agency for information and communication technology ITU allocates radio frequencies and satellite orbits, develops specifications to ensure the seamless interconnection of networks and technologies, and works to improve ICT access to underserved communities around the world. Every time you use your mobile phone, access the internet or send an email it’s thanks to the ITU.
The European Union has defined a digital strategy to ensure any transformation is beneficial to citizens and businesses while helping the EU achieve its carbon neutrality objective by 2050. It is working on issues relating to the mobile network and 5G policy as well as the fixed network.
ARCEP is the independent French authority responsible for regulating all electronic communications via fixed networks (copper, optical fibre etc) and mobile networks (2G, 3G, 4G and 5G) alike.
Here is the list of telecommunications legal regulatory bodies for each country. Many other stakeholders, including governments, participate in regulatory discussions.
Orange is represented in many of these bodies, which is an opportunity to promote our strategy and priorities. For example the Orange Network Architect Lionel Morand has been the Group’s delegate to the 3GPP for over 15 years.
How submarine cables help us, and our customers too
Submarine cables are an essential part of the information superhighway. We’re continuing to develop the network to adapt to customers’ needs and respond to strong growth in international telecommunications traffic. They’re an essential asset for our Group in terms of enabling equal access to the Internet, especially in Africa.
Due to the high costs of installing and maintaining cable infrastructure, we collaborate with industry partners including operators, private companies and the GAFAM. We invest in a wide range of fields, from collaborating in consortiums to purchasing usage rights and renting transmission capacity etc.
- We’re involved in around 50 consortiums covering various different cable routes including the North Atlantic, Caribbean, Europe-Asia and Europe-Africa. In 2019, the PEACE project resulted in an agreement to deploy and commission a new cable connecting France to East Africa and Pakistan in 2021.
- We’re also a major investor in more than 40 submarine cables to date, and continue to invest in various projects to provide high-quality and enriched connectivity around the world.
Orange Marine is a major player in the field of submarine cables, from initial studies and design through to engineering, installing intercontinental links and maintaining existing cables. To date, the subsidiary has installed more than 260,000 kilometres of cables (including more than 30,000 buried cables) and conducted reconnaissance across more than 80,000 kilometres of the sea floor. Crews have also carried out 800 repairs on faulty cables, some of them over 5,000 metres deep. The cable fleet includes seven ships (six cable ships and an underwater research vessel). It represents 15% of the global fleet and is one of the most experienced in the world.