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Paris transport firm wins €500m fibre deal

The operator of public transport in Paris has netted a contract worth €500 million to roll out and run fibre in and around the French capital.

The announcement marks the latest bid by a major transport company to take on the role of telco, and and it serves as a further example of companies with non-telecoms heritage diversifying out of their core businesses into the telecoms space, attracted by the opportunities in areas like infrastructure.

RATP, or Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, to give it its full title, has won a deal for the fibre-optic infrastructure to be deployed within the Grand Paris Express, a major Parisian public transport extension project, via its RATP Solutions Ville subsidiary.

RATP Solutions Ville came into being earlier this year, bringing together the group’s expertise in various areas, including real estate, urban logistics and telecoms; amongst other existing RATP business units, the new entity includes its RATP Connect telecoms outfit, which has already rolled out miles of fibre-optic cable alongside the transport network.

Under this new contract, it will lay fibre alongside the 200 km of new railway lines covered by the  Grand Paris Express project, linking 68 new interconnected stations across the Ile-de-France region.

But more interestingly, it notes that the new cables will support mobile services accessible along the new metro system, and connect more than 20,000 companies, administrations and research centres. The first customers will be connected to the new network at the end of next year, the company predicts.

Further, it says the operation of technical hosting sites located in the stations and service structures of the Grand Paris Express will allow the Ile-de-France to become a pioneer region in terms of Edge Computing. The new network will be interconnected with existing RATP Group network, and will therefore have access to all data centres in the region, it added.

“Winning this first major contract for our very young subsidiary RATP Solutions Ville demonstrates the relevance of the group’s development strategy beyond our core business, which is still transport, with recognized expertise in telecommunications, real estate development, urban logistics, or energy,” said Catherine Guillouard, chief executive of the RATP Group, in a French language statement.

“The RATP Group, which is also an expert in fibre (having already deployed more than 170,000 km of optical fibre on the historic RATP network, which is operated by telecoms experts from RATP Connect) and connected technical spaces in the railway environment, will use all its know-how in this area to provide the Ile-de-France region with very high speed [connectivity] and offer travellers the best connected mobility experience,” added Valere Pelletier, Managing Director of RATP Solutions Ville.

RATP is not the only one to launch a new company to help it get ahead in telecoms.

French rail network operator SNCF in May formally launched a new subsidiary that will see it break into the market for wholesale fibre connectivity. Its new Terralpha unit will provide data transport services using the approximately 20,000 km of fibre SNCF has deployed alongside the tracks. Essentially, SNCF replaced old copper cables with fibre to support its own connectivity needs and is now keen to monetise the excess capacity.

It makes perfect sense for transport network operators to turn their hands to telecoms networks. As evidenced above, this is nothing new for RATP, but the development of an existing strategy. We’re likely to see more of this as the demand for fibre grows.

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