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Europe vs UK – New Study Summarises Fixed Broadband and 4G Coverage

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017 (10:00 am) - Score 2,452

The European Commission has published a new study from IHS Markit and Point Topic, which summarises the current state of broadband coverage across Europe and measures how close the EU is to achieving their Digital Agenda goals (i.e. 30Mbps for all, with 50% subscribed to 100Mbps+ by 2020).

At this point we should say that many of the headline figures in this report have already been covered in past progress updates from earlier this year (here and here) and similarly the information is based on data collected to the end of June 2016, which is now quite out-of-date. However the earlier studies focused exclusively on the 28 EU counties, while this one also includes data from Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.

Key Findings

* In the 12 months to the end of June 2016, 12.8 million new EU households gained access to high-speed broadband delivered via Next-Generation Access (NGA) networks

* By mid-2016, high-speed NGA broadband services (at least 30Mbps download speeds) were available to 75.9% of EU households.

* Very-high-speed-DSL (VDSL / FTTC) continues to be the key driver of NGA coverage growth across the EU, increasing by 7.1% points and reaching nearly a half (48.2%) of EU homes.

* 4G LTE networks expanded at a fast pace and covered 96% of EU households by the end of June 2016.

* The gap between rural and national NGA coverage is closing, but remains significant with only 39.2% rural households across the EU having access to high-speed broadband services.

We don’t plan to go into too much detail here because to do so would be to repeat what we’ve already written in the two prior articles (linked above), although the report does note that broadband network operators across Europe continue to focus their deployment strategies on upgrading existing copper networks (e.g. VDSL2 / FTTC) “instead of investing in the typically more expensive deployments of fibre optic [FTTP/H] networks.

Alzbeta Fellenbaum, Principal Analyst at IHS Markit, said:

“Since 2013, VDSL has been the fastest growing fixed broadband technology tracked by the study, and some countries have seen dramatic year-on-year growth in VDSL. For instance, VDSL coverage in Italy more than doubled during the twelve-month period to mid-2016, as coverage increased by 33.6 percentage points.

Iceland, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia also witnessed double-digit growth in VDSL coverage during the twelve-month period to mid-2016.”

However as the coverage of VDSL reaches maturity (it’s already around 90% in the UK) then we can expect to see more movement towards “full fibreFTTP/H ultrafast broadband services, as well as future hybrid-fibre upgrades like G.fast and DOCSIS 3.1. Signs of this are already very evident in the UK (here and here) and Virgin Media’s existing EuroDOCSIS network can already do 350Mbps.

Such upgrades will be essential if the EU ever hopes to stand any chance of achieving their next non-binding goal for “all European households” to get a minimum Internet download speed of 100Mbps+ by 2025, with businesses and the public sector expecting 1Gbps+ (here).

The following table summarises the United Kingdom’s position across various different technologies vs the EU 28 average, which includes a useful breakdown for rural coverage. Take note that the figures for 4G (LTE) Mobile appear to reflect population rather than geographic network coverage.

eu_vs_the_uk_broadband_and_mobile_technology_coverage

eu broadband and mobile technology coverage June 2016

The Report
Final Study on Broadband Coverage in Europe 2016 (PDF)

Report Data Tables (MS Excel)

UPDATE 27th Sept 2017

The now almost customary comment from rural FTTH provider Gigaclear has just dropped.

Matthew Hare, CEO of Gigaclear, said:

“This summary of the current state of broadband coverage across Europe just reinforces what we already know – that the UK needs further investment into its ultrafast full fibre broadband infrastructure.

Key for us is that, across Europe, the telecoms industry continues to focus their deployment strategies on upgrading existing century old copper networks rather than investing in the superior full fibre network. This is resulting in wasted investment into a short term fix rather than a long term, future-proofed solution as well as misinformed consumers, who believe they are receiving a quality full fibre connection, when they are actually receiving limited part-fibre broadband.

At Gigaclear, we are investing hundreds of millions of pounds into new full fibre networks in rural areas, but what is needed is a national plan to ensure that everybody throughout the country has access to future-proofed connectivity that secures our digital economy and enables the UK to compete with the rest of the world.”

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Mark Jackson
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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16 Responses
  1. Avatar Salek

    UK FTTP (2016) Total is less than Rural (total 1.8% Rural 2.5%)

    • The overall total includes urban coverage and I’m guessing the rural only total should be proportional to its respective smaller market size. At the end of June 2016 Openreach had a lot of FTTP in rural Cornwall and some in other areas, while Gigaclear and B4RN etc. were also making an impact.

      The FTTP market was quite small back then so it doesn’t take much to swing a percentage.

  2. Avatar MikeW

    Last row of table – 100Mbps only 23.6%?

    Yet cable coverage is 47.8%, and FTTP is 1.8%.

    Or does it refer to takeup? In which case the row above it would be suspiciously high.

    • Looks flat wrong to me too, definition is on page 19 and it clearly includes DOCSIS so should be higher.

    • I have been engaging with IHS over this and they’re sticking by their figures, which they say have been “vetted by Ofcom” and reflect “the availability of homes with actual achievable speeds”. However they did agree that their definitions might have had an impact on the data that was reported and they’ve promised to raise the issue with Ofcom ahead of next year’s report.

    • Avatar MikeW

      The wording in the report is tricky – it uses a phrase of “actual download speed” which might make some people believe it is about actual takeup.

      I think they mean availability of technology that can lead to those actual download speeds, but I can easily see others reading it differently.

      But a 23.6% figure must be rather close to actual takeup of DOCSIS alone.

  3. Avatar gerarda

    presumably Point Topic cant distinguish 4G, 3G and 2G services and bundle everything up as LTE to get 99.5% coverage

    • Avatar MikeW

      The report distinguishes 3G from LTE, so presumably they aren’t bundling non-LTE to invent an LTE figure.

      However, what they attempt to distinguish separately is the aggregate national LTE coverage of all operators from the coverage of individual operators. On the basis that the owner of a SIM can only get service from one network.

      Presumably the 99.5% figure is the aggregate.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Just checked the report … the average “per operator” coverage of LTE looks like 92% for the UK

    • Avatar gerarda

      Mike According to the table the coverage of rural LTE has gone up from 10.1% to 96.5% in a year which does not seem feasible, and in Ofcom’s connected nation report for 2016 no operator achieved over 90% 4G coverage so the average of all operators could not be 92.5%.

    • Avatar MikeW

      So much for “vetted by Ofcom”

  4. Avatar MikeW

    On Gigaclear’s statement:
    “This summary of the current state of broadband coverage across Europe just reinforces what we already know – that the UK needs further investment into its ultrafast full fibre broadband infrastructure.”

    It only reinforces that conclusion if you only consider the tables telling you about FTTP technology. If you look at performance, you get a different conclusion.

    If you look, for example, at the countries with the best rural NGA coverage (Gigaclear’s own market focus), you’ll find the UK in 7th place. (Not too bad, but could do better)

    The five countries at the top of the “Rural NGA” list are all there because of their high cable coverage, not their FTTP coverage. The four countries immediately ahead of the UK are there because of their VDSL2 coverage. Three of the six are high in both VDSL2 and cable).

    Only Iceland stands out as relatively high in FTTP (62%), but it is also high in VDSL2 coverage too (90%).

    Ironically, it seems that if the outcome you seek is good rural NGA coverage (ie 30Mbps coverage), you’re more likely to get it from cable and VDSL2 than from FTTP.

    Real conclusion: Those places achieving high FTTP coverage don’t seem to be doing so much for their rural customers.

  5. It is encouraging to see that over three-quarters of European homes have access to 30Mbps connections, but the EU’s over-reliance on copper is simply delaying the inevitable. Technologies like VDSL and G.fast may be stretching the capabilities of copper, but there is a limit to how far it can take us. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world is leaping ahead with ambitious fibre deployments.

    The only viable, long-term solution for the EU’s global competitiveness is to double down on true fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) investment. Only FTTP will deliver the next-generation, scalable, future-proof connectivity that we all need.

    If the EU continues down the copper path, then the UK has a real opportunity to differentiate itself post-Brexit with an ambitious, national fibre investment programme. A programme which builds on, and works with, those in the private sector who have already delivered true fibre to millions of homes and businesses across the country could quickly secure the UK’s future as the digital leader in Europe.

    • Avatar 125us

      Which countries are leaping ahead Lorrin?

      There are countries with widespread fibre, but they tend to also not have terribly much in the way of rural coverage. The UK could similarly leap up the speed table by disconnecting anyone who lives outside a large town or city or who receives slower broadband.

      A sensible measure of how ‘good’ a country’s broadband is must include both speed and availability, and I’d suggest, affordability.

      Given where most European countries are starting from in terms of broadband, copper makes absolute sense if you want to reach the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time at the lowest cost.

      Fibre will undoubtedly follow, but leaping straight to it for a European telco results in really one outcome I think; bankruptcy.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Lorrin,

      I have an 80Mbps connection on copper, though we could easily get by on 40Mbps.

      What am going to be missing out on by sticking to copper? How is my global competitiveness going to be limited?

  6. Avatar AJW

    You have an 80Mbps connection on copper because you are fortunate enough to be close enough to the cabinet to get those speeds. Because you are so close the connection is probably reliable too.

    I suspect someone over 2km from the same cabinet isn’t having the same experience. They will be getting slower speeds and a less reliable connection but paying exactly the same. That is the problem with copper.

    You may think that is acceptable but I don’t.

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