Point Topic: Europe half-way to 'digital heaven'

One of the European Union’s most ambitious targets is to make sure that all its citizens can get access to superfast broadband at home, if they choose, by 2020. A new study by Point Topic shows that Europe is now half-way towards achieving that aim.

Nov 27th, 2012

One of the European Union’s most ambitious targets is to make sure that all its citizens can get access to superfast broadband at home, if they choose, by 2020. A new study by Point Topic shows that Europe is now half-way towards achieving that aim.

The study has been produced for DG Connect, the department of the European Commission responsible for its “Digital Agenda” strategy. The purpose of the Digital Agenda is to harness the Internet and other digital technologies to drive sustainable economic growth. Neelie Kroes, the Commission vice-president responsible, wants to see €7 billion earmarked for EU investments in broadband to help reach Digital Agenda targets, which in turn is meant to draw in private funds of many times that amount (see “European Commission proposes €9 billion broadband investment program”).

“This study gives us the best view so far of where action is needed on broadband coverage,” said Neelie Kroes. “It will help to guide decisions on where EU and private money can be invested to provide the best long-term return for taxpayers and investors such as pension funds.”

Titled Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011, the new study shows that almost 96% of the homes in Europe now have access to basic broadband, meaning services offering at least 144 kbps, if they choose to subscribe. Over 50% can already get superfast broadband, providing speeds of at least 30 Mbps.

Basic broadband is fairly widespread now; only three EU countries have less than 90% coverage. But there are huge variations in availability of superfast broadband. Three EU countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, and Malta) have over 98%; three others (Italy, Greece, and Cyprus) have less than 11%. All the rest are in the range between 35% and 75%. There are also large variations within countries. For example, rural areas across Europe as a whole are estimated to have only 12% superfast broadband coverage.

The study also shows which competing technologies are taking a share of the superfast broadband market. In spite of its prominence in the news, fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) has the smallest share of the market (see “FTTH Council Europe cheers Spain, scolds the UK”). And VDSL, which provides superfast speeds over shorter copper telephone lines, only reached 21% of EU homes by the end of 2011.

“Despite all the publicity, FTTP doesn’t offer the main route to digital heaven, at least not for the time being,” said Tim Johnson, who led the project as Point Topic’s chief analyst. “So far, FTTP covers only 12% of homes. The biggest providers of superfast services are the cable TV networks, which can now reach 37% of EU homes with the up-to-date DOCSIS 3.0 standard.”

The three technologies together add up to only 50% total superfast coverage because they overlap a great deal, and are competing to serve the richer and more densely populated areas – leaving other areas underserved.

For more information on FTTx/access systems and suppliers, visit the Lightwave Buyer’s Guide.

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