39 thoughts on “Xavier Niel, France's Broadband Maverick”

  1. Guys it is 1800 words. I didn’t know what to do – it be one massive page – don’t you think it is too long for a single page? I know I know… don’t write long. This was more of a feature length post I wanted to do.

    Okay I removed the page breaks!

  2. The only reason to split it up into multiple pages it to plaster more ads, which is obviously a decision for you to make. I prefer one long page and don’t know why anyone would prefer the page splits. I love the feature-length post and wish you’d write more. Any idiots out there who tell you blog posts should not be long don’t know what they’re talking about (these are the same idiots who’ll tell you bloggers should post everyday just to keep their frequency up, disregarding the inevitable loss of quality). btw, a preview button for commenters would be nice.

  3. Hi Om,

    thanks for the post, very interesting! Xavier seems to be the Robin Hood of French broadband. Hope he can do the same for wireless as prices compared to the rest of the world especially for mobile Internet access are very high.


  4. Cyclepromo,

    I agree. The problem is that most ISPs are run be telcos and they have a “metered mindset” and cannot overcome it.

    After a visit to his company, i wish he was running the ISP in my neighborhood.

  5. Hello there,

    I’m french and I’m one of Free’s subscribers. I could even say I’m a “Free Fan” because I really like my ISP. In your article, you write 28 megabites per second. That’s wrong. My english is not technical engouh to explain but 28Mega is the offer, but you really have around 2,5Mo/s when you download (7min for a movie, 35Min for a full DVD thanks to newsgroups that Free let opened unlike the others ISPs). I know that’s already awesome. I do agree.

    I could write the list of every thing we have for free with this ISP but it would be a bit long (and I just wake up :p) but if someone is interested in that, I’ll do it.

    very interesting article anyway,



  6. I have been a Free.fr user for over a year and a half and must insist on the fact that this broadband service provider has compelled other French such companies to tremendously lower their rates down to keep competitive… but I am wondering: what would be the cheapest price for equivalent services in the US ? [img]http://freelog.chez-alice.fr/emoticon/Confus/Confus_18.gif[/img]


  7. I am french and I belong to the free community. To give an idea of what we get for 30 € a month check the list below.

    Set top box : The dsl module is plugged on your phone line and the tv module on your TV set (they communicate with wifi mimo, router, wifi, switch, printing server, coaxial, hdmi usb…

    Phone : free calls over 70 countries, ring back tone, sip account (I use it with my computer or my nokia E65), send a fax in pdf

    DSL : up to 28 mbps, newsgroups, web page, send files in ftp up to 10 giga to anybody, reverse dns, ipv6.

    TV radio : 100 tv channels dozens of radio channels, video on demand, live control, 40 giga recorder (can upgrade with usb and a hard drive,)watch and record tv on your computer. personal tv with your camcorder in live or recorded, watch photos, videos(divx,dvd)and listen to mp3 from your computer to the tv in streaming with your remote controler…
    and in few months we will be able to play games with the remote which is designed like a former nintendo controller.

    I may forget few things. Sorry for my english and my french accent 🙂

  8. I’d like to give a little more precision on the 28 Mbit rate. First Samoth is confused about the difference between “megabits” and “megabytes”. 28 Mbits/s mean actually 3.5 Mbytes/s.

    Second there’s a bit of cheating here because the 28 Mbyte are an “ATM” rate, which is 25% higher than the real “IP” rate.
    So that’s only 21Mbit/s when expressed in IP rate (so 2,625 Mbyte/s). But the IP rate itself doesn’t tell how fast you can really download, because the IP headers will always make you lose a little. This all explains that the real max actually achievable download rate is around 2.5 Mbyte/s.

    This is still 20% higher than the maximal rate officially possible with ADLS2+ (wich is 24Mbit/s), because the equipements, 100% based on broadcom chipsets, activate the broadcom proprietary “nitro” mode which does ADSL header compresion and gives that 20% gain.

    Also the 28 Mbit ATM can be achieved only an extremely short line (maybe at most 200 meters), it will be quite less than that for most people. Myself with a reasonably short line of 906 meters, I get 24232 Mbit/s ATM, so around 2 Mbyte/s download.

    Well anyway few internet servers will be fast enough to really make use of that, but don’t forget the line’s also used for IPTV, so the debit is convenient to watch a channel on the TV, record a second on the integrated HDD, and watch a third on the computer (choosed amongst the channels that allow forwarding their MP2/MP4 flux to the computer).

  9. Hi all,

    Well, obrowny, you forgot my favorite features :

    • Fully customizable reverse DNS (those trying to host a SMTP server at home knows)
    • IPv6 enable (your get your own /64)
    • Personal certificate to use your SIP account on any Freebox (free’s setop box) in France : this means, once you get close to any freebox, you can call to any of the 64 country using you own account for free (ie. unlimited call included in the 30EUR rate) ! Thanks to the certificat any non-included call is simply put on your bill 😉 This one is realy an impressive feature.
  10. If Free didn’t exist we would still pay around 45€ for a 512/128 Kbits/s DSL connection today…remember Wanadoo ?

  11. And we get also a 40 Go hard drive on the tv modem we can use a FTP protocol to get back on the computer all the vidéo, we also get a “multipostes” tv that’s mean on the home tv a High and HD tv, and on each computer in the same time you can see another chanel with a soft like ADSL TV( for me, 4 children, often, 5 différents channel in the same time), and a fantastic thing: freeplayer: a soft that allow me to see on tv all the content of my computer (photos, movies, …) and I live in a small town in teh south east of France near Marseille. An Happy customer :-))))

  12. Well!

    I am a Free customer for one year now and I must add a thing : Freebox and all Free backbones ( as for all other ISP anyway ) run Linux and are fully compatible witn Windows, MacOS and Linux computers. Even Freeplayer !

    Thank you Free ! 🙂

  13. Hi,
    I’m also in the free community since years now. And I think that the most important in the success of free is the pionner spirit of his leaders, that has to remain in the futur if they want to keep their customer.
    I mean, I don’t think it’s natural to be proud being a customer of a telco, but free make this difference, that all his customer will recommand it to friends, familly, because it is a pionner, and is now the reason why internet is cheaper and more performant, and widespread in france.

    (who paid once 45€ for a 512/64 kb years ago…)

  14. Thanks to Xavier Niel, we have an affordable DSL offer in France.

    I am one of the first 10000 Free.fr dsl customers.

    Ok, the six last years were not a huge dream on a technical point of view, my dsl line is 3800 meters long so my line is slow, but Free’s teams are skilled and available to solve the issues : I am now able to watch IP TV without flaw.

    Even if the product is cheap, Free has solved all my issues quickly.

    The Free added value : we have an improving offer, let’s say every 6 months, we get an extra feature for no extra cost. And the Free’s challengers offer the same feature with 6 months late.

    I really hope Mr Niel is going to keep up “our” french Free success story. I hope the French government will support Niel to wake up the mobile phone market which is so expensive with a dying technical offer : nothing new since 1999.

  15. hello,

    I’m a free.fr user too, and… I love this ISP 😀
    (and pleas forgive my poor english 🙂

    some points :

    • just to give an order : I am at 1300 meters to the DSLAM and I have 17.5Mb/s down – 1 Mb/s up connection (this is theoric, but I really touch the theorical rates of my connection)

    • other fonctionnalities not mentionned : The Box has a 40GB HD and is a ftp server (in my LAN) ==> if the TV channel permit, I can Record and transfert to my PC / I cant upload Divx to the box and read it.
      compatibility with freeplayer and open sourcecode for the PC side : a lot of softwares allow to hear/view/surf/control PC through my TV

    • a huge list of free TV channels (for us French who had for a long time only 5 free hertzian TV channels, and recently 15 it is amazing not to pay for a set of channels through cable or satellite), and a huge list of pay channels, and some VOD channels

    • Free.fr gives a free http / ftp site with SQL (I have to admit his time response is not so great for big sites) and up to 5GB space

    • with dl.free.fr I can upload files up to 5GB and send the link to download it to anyone (and a site is in test to organize the sharing

    • free has a friend : deezer.fr who provides free music (streaming only) : the biggest Ipod I know 😉 And we hope some day it’ll be on our TV through the box

    I am sure I forgot a lot of features 😉


  16. I used free since october 2002 why ?
    At this date It was cheaper than others. Since this date it is the same thing always 29.99Euros per month with telephone, tv, radio, fax(send and receive), voice mail, internet of course. No more than 29.99Euros, for all others you have to pay for example 3Euros more for the rent of the box. Since 2002 free gives the rate and all others align with this value (more or less).
    Yes ! since 2002, I am happy with free.
    Your blog is nice, thanks !


  17. Really good paper (hi Rodrigo, hope you are well !!)- hope too that VOD really develops to use Free’s bandwidth capacity ! VOD’s still the graal; enough of stupid TV shows !

  18. Hello from another “Freenaut” since many years. All of my family and quite a few friends switched to Free, not less for the formidable and solid TV related services. The very competent use of open source technologies and total commitment to end user would make Google a good comparison for the Free spirit, even if they are totally different businesses.

  19. Another good thing is that they use Linux and offer mirrors to major Linux distros. For technical users, IPv6 is great (you have 2^64 UNIQUE adresses you can use in your home or your office and you can forget NAT).

    Plus the “timeshift” (pause and resume TV shows) feature, parental control, antivirus – things that Orange provide for a extra fee (Orange sucks !)

    But the best feature is the reliability of the connection – I never had to call the tech hotline. And they gave me a 2 Mbps connection (in the countryside) even if they said it would be 512 Kbps. Generally it’s the other way round…

    I wish we had that level of competition in other sectors – especially postal services !

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