And the gigabit train rolls on: France’s Free launches gigabit service

Illiad, the French telecom that offers the Free brand of broadband and mobile phone service, has launched a gigabit network service and is upgrading its highest tier of users to it at no additional charge. The Free product isn’t symmetrical, offering one gigabit down and 200 Mbps up, but it costs a reasonable €35 ($47.41).

A tipster with the service tells me his broadband bill is €37.97, which is about $20 less than my current bill for 20/5 service. After AT&T and Google launch fiber to the home in Austin, we’ll see how it compares. Of course, he added that the service provides voice calling and HD television with network attached storage and Blu-ray player.

Illiad, which became well known in the broadband community for launching a cheaper alternative copper-based broadband network in France, will not use the traditional GPON network architecture that splits fiber connections among several homes (this is the type of network Verizon is using and what AT&T has deployed so far in its network as well).

It uses a point-to-point network, which means everyone’s connection is a dedicated one back to the central office. It’s also likely using some custom equipment, which it did in earlier iterations of its networks to save money. Free also upgraded its current ADSL subscribers to faster VDSL2 speeds (they go up to 100 Mbps) at no extra charge.

Free’s faster network will undoubtedly come in handy as it gets more users on its mobile network, since in many places Free’s broadband subscribers share some of their connection with the mobile subs. Meanwhile, it can join the ever-growing number of providers who are building out a gig.