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 by 2020. A new study by Point Topic shows that Europe is now halfway 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.
“This study gives us the best view so far of where action is needed on broadband coverage,” said Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda. “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.”
Entitled Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011, the study shows that almost 96% of the homes in Europe have access to basic broadband, defined as services offering at least 144kbps. More than half of homes can already get superfast broadband, providing speeds of at least 30Mbps.
Basic broadband is fairly widespread now says Point Topic; 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. “Despite all the publicity, FTTP [fibre to the premises] 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.
To date, 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. VDSL/FTTC falls between the other two, reaching 21% of EU homes by the end of 2011.
The three technologies together add up to only 50% total superfast coverage because they overlap a great deal, and often compete to serve the richer and more densely populated areas – leaving other areas underserved.
The study only considers the current state of play and not how – or even whether – the Digital Agenda goals will be reached. Upgrading the 50% of Europe’s homes still without superfast broadband is likely to present a considerable challenge, especially in rural areas.
By Pauline Rigby