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Europe Claims 100% Basic Broadband Target Won via Satellite

Friday, October 18th, 2013 (8:07 am) - Score 1,222
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Sooner or later a politician was bound to play the quick-fix card. The European Commission has declared that the race to achieve 100% coverage of basic broadband services has been achieved thanks to the help of pan-EU Satellite availability. Concerns over capacity, performance and price appear to have been left at the door.

The Digital Agenda strategy set out by Europe aimed to achieve a number of things including 100% coverage of basic broadband services (0.5-4Mbps) by the end of 2013 and 100% availability of superfast broadband (30Mbps+) by the end of 2020 (plus 50% of homes to be within reach of an ultra-fast 100Mbps+ connection).

According to the latest update fixed line broadband services (ADSL, fibre optic, cable etc.) can now reach 96.1% of EU households, Mobile Broadband (3G, 4G) covers 99.4% and Satellite is suddenly able to achieve 100% even though this isn’t particularly new news.

Neelie Kroes, VP of the European Commission, said:

My motto is Every European Digital – now every European genuinely has the opportunity. We have more to do to improve networks and equalise the opportunity, but the opportunity is there.

Thanks to the extra coverage provided by satellite broadband, we have achieved our 2013 target of broadband for all. That’s a great result for European citizens.

The EU is technology neutral, but for those in the most isolated areas, satellite is a good option to stay connected; and it’s likely to remain so.”

It’s an interesting statement given that Satellite has traditionally played second fiddle to fixed line, mobile and fixed wireless services and is usually only regarded as a stop-gap measure until something better comes along. On the other hand the technology has indeed made some significant improvements over the past 2-3 years.

Firstly there’s a lot more of them and indeed Kroes states that 148 satellites are now providing services to Europeans, which perhaps ignores the fact that the vast majority of those do not deliver consumer affordable broadband services; only a small fraction would fall into that category (e.g. Eutelsat’s KA-SAT, Avanti’s HYLAS and SES’s Astra spacecraft / fleet etc.).

Never the less the latest generation of spacecraft can often deliver speeds of up to 20Mbps (faster on some super-expensive business options) and come alongside monthly rental fees that can start as low as around £15 inc. VAT per month for a basic 1-4Mbps style connection.

But the technology is far from perfect and one issue is the lack of capacity, which makes is extremely difficult to deliver the promised speeds without making often liberal use of traffic throttling measures. As a result some services will grind down to almost dialup speeds during periods of heavy use. Similarly satellite hardware is a lot cheaper these days but at around £250 to £500 it’s still quite pricey (note: some packages allow you to pay for this over time via a higher rental).

Then there’s the age old bugbear of high latency that often makes fast-paced multiplayer gaming unusable (Skype, VPN and some other real-time services can also suffer), issues over how some satellite ISPs fail to provide a geographic IP address (good luck watching iPlayer), tiny usage allowances (there are some “unlimited” options but expect slower speeds) and vague traffic management policies.

On top of all that there can also be issues around gaining planning permission for the dish (hardware) and some people will live in locations where securing a clear line-of-sight to the Satellite would be difficult. But at least Kroes is still able to look beyond this technology.

Neelie Kroes added:

Europe needs lightning-speed connectivity. We cannot leave some companies and citizens behind. Now we have basic broadband achieved, we have to immediately focus on investing in new fast networks.”

Access to reliable and affordable higher broadband speeds of 30Mbps and 50 Mbps are essential for Europe’s economic development and for the next generation of digital products and services like Connected Television, eHealth, Cloud Computing and Connected Cars.”

Satellite is indeed a very useful technology, especially for remote rural areas, but we perhaps shouldn’t be taking a ‘job-done’ approach while the services inherent limitations remain such a significant stumbling block.

The fear is that other European states, such as the United Kingdom, might now follow Kroes lead and thus take their focus off the need to achieve a decent quality of universal broadband coverage via more capable fixed-line, mobile and or fixed wireless solutions.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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