Broadband Coverage in Europe
As you might have seen the latest edition of the Broadband Coverage in Europe project has been published.
The EC and other countries in the study have, as of mid 2022, reported 60% coverage of gigabit download capable fixed networks and more than 80% of households with access to more than 100Mbps.
Some notable countries are Malta, Spain, Denmark and Luxembourg where at least 90% of households have a gigabit option available to them. Other stand outs are Netherlands and Norway where significant progress has been reported and they, along with others, will be edging into the 90%+ bracket.
At the other end of the scale are Slovenia, Bulgaria and Greece where progress has been slow.
We are looking primarily at FTTP and DOCSIS3.0/1 as fixed networks that are capable of a symmetric gigabit service or can be upgraded quickly. Much is being made of the mobile coverage options with 5G often offering a very high speed solution and Europe was reporting around 80% coverage in 2022.
There are a couple of points to remember on 5G however.
The service will vary with time of day and can be heavily influenced by local factors so it is difficult to guarantee a bandwidth in a particular place and time.
Secondly ‘5G is a fixed technology’ is a common quote. Meaning that if you are going to have multiple users getting 100Mbps+ (or even 1Gig+) service you will need to have a backhaul solution capable of dealing with the traffic and that generally means a fibre line to the cell tower.
Rural coverage struggles in several markets
In most countries the business case for urban areas is reasonably solid. Consumers are ready for higher bandwidths and need more upstream capacity than in the past. Take-up rates (see below) are starting to hit targets and so the assumption that commercial (unsubsidized) networks will cover the majority of ‘urban’ households is reasonable.
Rural Europe shows a different picture.
Almost half of the countries in Europe reported less than 50% rural coverage of gigabit capable fixed networks in 2022 with slow progress. Overall in Europe this translates to just 41% coverage.
While the trend could easily support 100% rural coverage before the end of the decade the curve will flatten as the challenges of difficult to reach areas will make an impact.
We can see a direct relationship between the fixed gig coverage and how ‘rural’ a country is. The size of each bubble reflects the total number of households still to be in a fixed gig footprint.
This highlights the remaining issues. While fixed gig coverage in urban areas is led by commercial deployments the rural areas rely on subsidy and central intervention which takes more time and planning.
Solving the problem – mobile services to the rescue?
Microwave, 5G and satellite coverage will be part of the package. This could be good news for Italy and Germany for example, where rural fixed gigabit coverage is low.
Here the ‘5G is a fixed technology’ mantra could apply. The presence of 5G implies infrastructure to support it, not captured in this consumer oriented study. Fibre is at least advancing into many rural areas on that basis.
Granular data on mobile coverage can be difficult to come by and even harder to define where and when what bandwidths are available. It is not the case in rural Italy that 100Mbps+ is available to all users everywhere for example. We expect the definition of ‘coverage’ of 5G to be tightened in future versions of this study.
So while 5G availability may herald a future FTTP service it will not in all cases be able to satisfy policy goals of universal 100Mbps+ and 1Gbps now embedded in European legislation.
The same is currently true for Fixed Wireless services which can be deployed more responsively for smaller units of demand and offer more stability than pure mobile 5G. Again it can be a mechanism to edge full fibre services closer to the remote areas as backhaul is still needed and can mean that fibre spines are extended. For some markets this solution has made inroads but it does not appear to be the answer in all cases.
In the end it will again be satellite solutions that come to the rescue, at least for those in the remotest areas and for the policy makers and governments in Europe who have committed to providing at least 100Mbps (downstream).
Some countries have already recognised this and are taking steps. Earlier in 2023 Spain announced the award of a contract and €76.3M from the ‘Next Generation EU’ recovery funds to make 100Mbps+ available to all rural and remote areas. Importantly this includes a price cap, €35 a month, for the service.
Take-up, availability and the digital divide
How quickly and how much of a market adopts solutions matters as well. It may be satisfying to announce that a gig down is available everywhere but if the consumers will not or cannot adopt those solutions then there remains a problem.
Most fixed gig services are priced competitively, well within the financial reach of most consumers. The same is not true of most mobile services. While some operators and ISPs are seeing fixed gig take-up well over 40% (and higher in some markets) it is dependent on a consumer calculation of cost versus benefit. Where consumers have a choice they will often ‘make do’ with FTTx or even DSL options particularly where the cost is lower.
Forecasts on take-up in Europe show only a few markets starting to reach FTTP saturation by 2030
Markets like Germany, the UK and Italy will take longer to drive gigabit adoption partly due to the choice of slower and lower price alternatives.
To make a service ‘available’ to a population the cost needs to be capped or the risk of non-adoption will increase. Spain recognises that as we have seen above where satellite tariffs are set at a flat fee. The cost of satellite and to a lesser extent 5G and FWA to deliver a gig down is high, even where it exists today at all.
More on the digital divide in Europe and what risks remain and where is coming from Point Topic and our sister company Expert Intelligence. Previous forecasts put the number of at risk (from non-gigabit adoption) at 30 million across the EU, UK, Norway and Switzerland.