Paris on crusade for the future


PARIS -- Your Eurostar screeches to a halt at Paris' Gare du Nord train station. You pull up a Web page on your PDA as you walk through the station and a map appears, showing you the nearest wireless Internet access points. With more than 400 in the city, it's not hard to find. You head to your hotel room and log on quickly, thanks to the fiber-optic cables installed in the sewers beneath you. A public-interest Web site pops onto the screen giving you a series of objectives and sites to guide your visit to Gaul's capital. You download the latest French film released theatrically just days before from your favorite VOD service. While the film is downloading simultaneously to your cell phone, you click a button to order dinner from a delivery service, then log on to Skype where a French businessman pops onto your screen, saying "Bonjour Monsieur. Shall we begin the meeting?"

This soon-to-be typical scene is courtesy of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, whose initiative to make Paris a "first-class digital city" began its second phase in April with the introduction of more than 400 broadband wireless access points in public places such as parks, squares and libraries.

Paris recently gave Alcatel-Lucent and SFR, the second-largest mobile telecommunications operator in France, a contract to supply and integrate France's first urban Wi-Fi network. Alcatel-Lucent will install the Wi-Fi network and SFR will be responsible for its operation, maintenance and customer service. That means more Internet users, more frequency of Internet use and, thus, more demand for new and varied VOD formats.

The city has really been selling itself as a high-tech digital city, having made notable strides in fiber-optic technology. Thanks to Baron Haussman's creation in the 1860s of a sewer system spanning the city, fiber optic cables can easily pass underground, giving private homes, small businesses and major corporations much faster Internet and telephone connections and cable TV signals.

Paris currently has 1,118 miles of optic fibers running underground, and the mayor plans to install 6,214 more miles over the next few years. Under the new plan, 80% of the city will have high-speed Internet and broader access to digital TV technology.

The mayor hopes the fiber-optic network will help to nurture the audiovisual industry in the Paris region.

"Paris is a very dynamic city that should be a buoyant market for new multimedia applications," says Christian Sautter, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of economic development, finance, employment and new technologies. Paris has declared itself San Francisco's "Digital Sister City" as the two cities continue to plan technological and social partnership initiatives. "You can tell the Hollywood producers that they'll still find a beautiful city of the past, but that they can also do very good business here in the future," Sautter says.