'Broadband for all' target achieved says EU

The European Commission says it has achieved the objective of delivering basic broadband coverage to all by 2013, and is making good progress on other targets outlined in the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE). However, roll out of high-speed broadband in rural areas still lags behind.

The European Commission says it has achieved the objective of delivering basic broadband coverage to all by 2013, and is making good progress on other targets outlined in the Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE). However, roll out of high-speed broadband in rural areas still lags behind.

The news came as the Commission published its Digital Agenda for Europe Scoreboard for 2013, with help from IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS) and Valdani, Vicari & Associati (VVA), who provided data and analysis of broadband coverage and take-up of various technologies across all European Union member states.

IHS and VVA data confirmed that basic broadband – consisting of xDSL, cable television (CATV) networks, fiber to the premises (FTTP), WiMAX, HSPA, LTE, and satellite technologies – is available to everyone in the European Union.

European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said, "Most Europeans now live digital lives and they are hungry for more. We have solved the internet access problem. But the digital skills gap persists. Unless we all do more, we will face a digitally illiterate underclass in Europe."

Once satellite is excluded from the equation, there are clearly still some gaps in terms of coverage in rural areas. Rural households continue to be substantially underserved by fixed technologies (89.8% coverage) and especially by high-speed broadband technologies (18.1% coverage). Nevertheless, the Commission says there has been remarkable progress in fixed broadband coverage in rural areas over the past two years – from 79.9% in 2011 to the 89.8% in 2013 – as governments in many member states focused on improving broadband access in rural areas.

Digging into the broadband data

Fixed and fixed wireless technologies cover 97.2% of EU homes and provide primary Internet access for most EU households, according to the study. Among these technologies, xDSL has the largest footprint (93.5%) followed by cable (42.7%), and WiMAX (19.7%). Fixed coverage is the highest in the member states with well-developed DSL infrastructures, and is over 90% in all but four member states (Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia).

Coverage of next-generation access (NGA) technologies has doubled since 2010, according to the data. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of EU households have access to broadband connections capable of delivering at least 30 Mbps download speeds. These so-called next generation access (NGA) technologies include VDSL, cable DOCSIS 3.0 and FTTP.

At the end of 2013, cable DOCSIS 3.0 had the largest NGA coverage at 41.2%, followed by VDSL (31.2%) and FTTP (14.5%). Over the past year, the NGA coverage increased by eight percentage points, equaling 20.5 million additional households covered by high-speed NGA broadband technologies compared to 2012.

In 2013, VDSL was the fastest growing NGA technology (up from 24.9% in 2012) with upgrades of cable networks to DOCSIS 3.0 nearly complete and FTTP coverage increasing by only two percentage points. The Commission says this clearly demonstrates the shift in broadband strategy in many member states, where companies are focusing on upgrading of existing copper networks rather than on the more costly deployment of fiber-optic cables all the way to consumers’ homes.

Malta, Belgium, and the Netherlands are close to full NGA coverage. NGA coverage continues to be high (over 90%) in Latvia and Lithuania due to continued FTTP deployment, whereas VDSL and cable DOCSIS 3.0 are behind the high NGA coverage in Malta, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Italy, Greece, and Croatia lag in NGA coverage with less than a third of households having access to high-speed broadband in each of the countries.

The Commission also reported that 4G availability jumped 32% in one year. With 4G technology being commercially launched in all but three member states (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta), deployment of 4G mobile increased sharply from 27.0% in 2012 to 59.1% in 2013.

The Scandinavian countries, Germany, France, and the UK are among the 11 countries above the EU average of 59.1% household coverage with 4G. In Sweden, 99.2% of households are in areas covered by advanced 4G mobile broadband. In Germany, 81% of households are covered, compared to the 68% covered in France and the 63% covered in the UK.

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