This article describes the different technologies available to access internet in France. You will learn the strengths, limitations and speed rate of each type of internet access.
Let’s start with internet speed and how to test your current speed.
Everybody uses the internet and a high speed connection makes life sweeter. Internet speed is measured in mégabits par seconde, written as Mbits/s or Mb/s or Mbit/s (megabits per second, written as Mbps). Internet speed is divided between débit descendant (download speed) and débit ascendant or montant (upload speed).
Débit descendant (Download speed)
Débit descendant is the internet speed to receive data from the internet server on your device (computer, iPad, phone).
Uses: browsing the internet (social media…), streaming a movie, watching a youtube video or downloading a file.
Débit montant or ascendant (Upload speed)
Débit ascendant or débit montant is the internet speed to transmit data from your device (computer, iPad, phone) to the internet server.
Uses: attaching a document to an outgoing email, sending or uploading pictures, uploading videos on youtube or playing online with other people.
Download speed is more important than upload speed for the average user. if you télétravailles (work from home) or if a gamer lives in your house, you should make sure that you have a decent upload speed. At least 1 Mbps upload speed is recommended for online gaming. Most internet service providers offer a significantly faster download speed than upload speed in their broadband packages.
Did you know?
In French, télécharger verb is used for download and upload. There is no French equivalent for upload. French usually resort to using the English term upload.
Temps de latence (Ping time)
Temps de latence (ping time) measures the time it take for the data to come from the server. Ping time is expressed in millisecondes (milliseconds), written as ms. When temps de latence is over 200 ms, your internet experience becomes sluggish at best and you notice a delay in every action you take.
Test your internet speed
A speed test is an easy way to evaluate your current internet connection. There are many online speed tests and I usually use this speed test from Ookola. Before starting the test, make sure you close all your tabs in your browser and that nobody else is using your connection. Press the Go button and let it run the test.
I will share my (sad) results, living in a small village near Grenoble using an ADSL connection from Free:
My download speed being under 3 Mbps, I can usually watch a Netflix movie as long as my teen son is not watching a movie at the same time (sigh). Gaming online with this kind of internet speed is very frustrating, to say the least.
Haut débit, très haut débit (Broadband)
Broadband is the transmission of data over a high speed internet connection. In France, there is a distinction between Haut Débit (high speed) and Très Haut Débit (very high speed) or THD. Haut Débit includes ADSL, while Très Haut Débit includes any technology with a higher speed than ADSL (fiber, cable…). This naming is not based on any real internet speed thresholds but it is rather for commercial use.
Internet in France: different types of access
ADSL and fiber optic internet are the most common broadband technologies that use physical cables in France. If you live in rural France and your ADSL connection is weak, you can turn to wireless technologies instead like 4G, radio waves (Wimax) or satellite.
ADSL (DSL) technology uses the phone copper lines to bring the internet to your place. Most homes in France are wired for an ADSL connection as it uses the existing phone lines.
ADSL Limitation 1- Distance from the phone company’s switch
The signal weakens as it travels through the copper wires. That is why your internet connection depends on the distance between your place and the noeud de raccordement des abonnés or NRA (phone company’s switch). The further away you are from the NRA and the weakest your internet connection becomes. To know what speed you can get with ADSL, check the location of the NRA closest to you on this NRA map from Ariase.
On the map, click on a NRA to display the ISPs available and the speed rate and technologies they offer. Here’s the map of the NRAs near my place:
If you live more than 5 kilometers away from your closest NRA, your internet access through ADSL cannot be higher than 1 or 2 Mbps.
ADSL Limitation 2- Upload speed
Upload speed is much slower than download speed with ADSL. In other words, it is faster to download a document than to send one.
ADSL Limitation 3- Phone line conditions
Your internet speed is impacted by the quality and diameter of the copper phone lines when using ADSL.
ADSL Download Speed: 1 to 15 Mbps
ADSL Upload Speed: Less than 1 Mbps
VDSL and VDSL2
If you live less than one kilometer away from a NRA, your Internet Service Provider can offer you internet access via VDSL or VDSL2 instead of ADSL. Both VDSL and VDSL2 use the same wires as ADSL but they perform better in terms of internet speed.
VDSL and VDSL2 Limitation
You need to live less than one kilometer from a Noeud de raccordement or NRA.
VDSL Download Speed: 15 to 50 Mbps
VDSL Upload Speed: 1 to 8 Mbps
VDSL2 Download Speed: 1 Gbps
VDSL2 Upload Speed: 400 Mbps
In France, câble is the same as FTTB (Fiber to The Building) or FTTLA (Fiber To The Last Amplifer). Câble technology uses fiber lines to the building or the street, but the final end of the network uses coaxial cables, the lines originally built for TV.
Only a handful of internet service providers (Red by SFR and SFR) offer câble in France and it will probably not exist for long as fiber optic internet is now the preferred solution.
Câble Download Speed: 500 Mbps to 1 Gbps
Câble Upload Speed: 50 to 100 Mbps
Fibre optique (Fiber optic)
French government’s plan was to provide fiber optic internet to everyone in France by the end of 2022. In 2023, most areas have now access to optic fiber but a few rural areas are still left behind. Optic fiber is currently the fastest, most-reliable internet service available in France as it offers many advantages:
- it is super fast
- upload speed is much higher than upload speed with ADSL
- your internet speed does not depend on the distance between your device and the server
- it gives you access to Haute Définition TV or even Ultra Haute Définition TV (also called 4k TV)
- fiber is more reliable than ADSL as the connection does not drop intermittently
- internet speed is maintained during peak times
- ping time is very short
- internet access is not affected by weather conditions
Fiber optic limitations
The only limitation is that fiber optic internet is not available to every address in France.
Fibre Download Speed: 1 to 2 Gbps
Fibre Upload Speed: 600 Mbps
Some ISPs offer internet access via 4G or 4G+ network for users who cannot get a good enough internet speed with ADSL (< 10 Mbps). A 4G router converts the 4G signal into a Wi-Fi signal. This is a solution for people living in an area with good 4G coverage.
You can either get a 4G Box subscription from an ISP or you can get your own routeur (router) with a SIM card reader and purchase a data plan.
Most of the time, 4G is faster than ADSL.
4G limitation 1- Limited data
Internet Service Providers usually restrict your monthly data usage to around 200-250 Go.
4G limitation 2- Traffic
Your internet speed depends on how many users are using the 4G network in your neighborhood.
4G limitation 3- Weather
In bad weather, your internet speed goes down.
4G Download Speed: 200 Mbps
4G Upload Speed: 30 Mbps
You usually turn to satellite technology when you cannot get ADSL, fiber or a 4G box. Internet via satellite is provided by communication satellites and can be a (last) option in rural areas. You need to install a parabole (satellite dish) to receive the signal.
Satellite limitation 1- Ping time
Ping time is usually much higher with satellite (around 600 ms) than with other technologies. This means that you cannot play or chat online or perform any action that requires quick interaction.
Satellite limitation 2- Installation cost
You need to get a satellite kit (around 300 €) that you can install yourself or pay a technician to do it for you.
Satellite limitation 3- Limited data
There are some restrictions on the data you can download with satellite.
Satellite Download Speed: 10 to 50 Mbps
Satellite Upload Speed: 1 to 6 Mbps
THD radio (Very high speed radio)
Radio technology (Wimax, THD radio…) uses radio waves and is available to people who do not have access to ADSL or fiber. You need to install an antenna at your place to receive the hertzian signal. Not everyone is eligible for Wimax
Wimax limitation 1- Obstacles
Any obstacle (such as a building or a mountain) will interfere with the signal. This is why radio technology is mostly used in rural area.
Wimax limitation 2- Weather
Your Wimax internet speed can be impacted by the weather.
Wimax Download Speed: 30 Mbps
Wimax Upload Speed: 5 Mbps
Zônes dégroupées (unbundled Areas) and non dégroupées (not unbundled Areas)
France Télécom (now Orange) used to be the only phone company in France. This is the reason why Orange still owns a good amount of the phone lines in France.
Zônes dégroupées (Unbundled Areas)
In most parts of France, internet service providers (ISP) have built their own fiber network that they connect to the existing lines inside Noeuds de Raccordements or NRA from Orange. These areas are called zônes dégroupées.
In zônes dégroupées, the number of ISPs available is much greater. When you setup your internet, your ISP provides you with a landline and you do not need a separate contract with Orange. ISPs in zônes dégroupées offer triple play packages that include internet, TV and a landline.
Zônes partiellement dégroupées (Partially unbundled area)
When ISPs only use the internet cables but not the phone cables, the area is called zône partiellement dégroupée. In that case, Orange is in charge of your phone line while your ISP manages your internet access. In that situation, you have to setup your landline with Orange before you can shop around for an ISP.
Zônes non dégroupées (Not unbundled areas)
In a zône non dégroupée, ISPs have not build their own network and they rent the cables from Orange. Internet plans in theses areas are more expensive and internet speed is lower . You can only subscribe to internet TV if you use Orange as your ISP. Zônes non Dégroupées are pretty rare in 2023 but they still remain in some French rural areas.
Now that you are familiar with the different internet options in France, pick your internet plan with one of the Internet Providers in France.