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May 25, 2021
French rail network operator SNCF has officially launched a new subsidiary that will see it break into the market for wholesale fibre connectivity.
Starting this year, SNCF’s new Terralpha unit will provide data transport services using the approximately 20,000 km of fibre the rail operator has deployed alongside the tracks. As many rail outfits have done, SNCF replaced old copper cables with fibre to support its own connectivity needs and is now looking to monetise the excess capacity.
In SNCF’s own words: “The mission of the Terralpha subsidiary, whose chairmanship is entrusted to Anne Bosche-Lenoir and general management to Gabriel Chenevoy, is to promote the excess fibre available through strategic partnerships, helping to reduce the digital divide.”
The firm is not setting itself up as a wholesale fibre provider as such, but rather as a provider of high-speed data transport to a range of potential customers, including fixed and mobile operators, data centre firms, large industrial groups – like the SNCF Group itself – and public initiative networks. The firm said it will use DWDM transmission, and is promising high speeds and low latency; links between data centres will range from 10 Gbps to 100 Gbps.
SNCF Reseau, the unit of SNCF that owns and operates the network, said it will roll out Terralpha services gradually this year, starting around Paris, Toulouse, Lille and Valenciennes, with Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux to follow.
“I would like to thank the SNCF Réseau teams for facilitating the launch of this extraordinary adventure,” said Bosche-Lenoir, who is also Chief Finance and Procurement Officer at SNCF Réseau. “I am convinced that by their side and with exceptional operational teams, we will create a champion of data mobility, accessible to everyone, everywhere,” she said.
“The Terralpha teams and I are proud and enthusiastic about offering a low latency data transport service and helping to distribute ultra-high speed in the territories,” added Chenevoy, who has been with the SNCF group for five years.
SNCF is not the first railway operator to seek to exploit the potential of its network connectivity by selling services to third parties. It is not even the first in the past month.
In late April UK railway network operator Network Rail took a novel approach to monetising excess capacity by calling on would-be investors to plough £1 billion into its network modernisation in return for the chance to offer services on the new infrastructure. It aims to finalise a deal before the end of this year.
As it stands, SNCF is sticking to offering data transport, but there are reports that it could go further. According to L’Express, which broke the news of SNCF’s plans to launch Terralpha earlier this year, a move into mobile could be on the cards. In February the news outlet claimed that SNCF was testing the use of 5G in the 26 GHz band in two stations for feeding back technical information from high-speed TGV trains. It was using Orange and Bouygues Telecom’s networks, but the publication pointed out that other big industrial groups have obtained spectrum licences from Arcep, clearly suggesting that this is a possible route for SNCF.
With private 4G and 5G networks on the increase in Europe it is clear that mobile networks are no longer solely the domain of mobile operators, so there’s no reason a train company shouldn’t get in on the act.
Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.
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