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The European Commission asked Point Topic how far its member states had progressed towards its objectives to provide basic broadband to all by 2013 and superfast broadband to all by 2020.

Point Topic believes that this project continues to provide the best view of broadband coverage in Europe. Our positioning in the broadband market place, combined with our experience mapping broadband on other highly relevant projects helped us to deliver more accurate assessments of coverage at the country level and a graphic picture of regional broadband coverage across the whole EU and also Norway, Croatia, Switzerland and Iceland.

Background

The purpose of the Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2012 (BCE 2012) project is to support the objectives of the European Union’s Digital Agenda.  Two of the Agenda’s key objectives are to provide all European Union citizens with:

  • basic broadband coverage by 2013 and
  • broadband speeds of at least 30 megabits per second by 2020.

BCE 2012 is designed to measure progress towards that objective and identify where action will be needed to achieve it.

The project was commissioned by the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology, DG Connect. Neelie Kroes, the Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, has pointed out that

accurate data is critical for delivering policy and regulation that enables broadband internet for all Europeans.

How Point Topic helped

With that need in view, DG Connect requested a study to be based on a survey of broadband network operators and national regulatory agencies.  The study was to cover all the 27 countries of the EU and also Croatia, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.  The main objective was to research the coverage of each of the nine main broadband technologies – meaning what proportion of homes have access to services using each technology.

The study was also to estimate the coverage of “combinations” of technologies.  Since the coverage areas of the different technologies will often overlap, this meant looking at the number of homes passed by each different technology capable of delivering a chosen level of performance and estimating the total number of homes which is served by at least one of the technologies.  The two technology combinations chosen to report on were “Standard Fixed Broadband”, combining DSL, FTTP, WiMAX and Standard Cable and “Next Generation Access (NGA) Broadband” combining VDSL, FTTP and Docsis 3 cable.  Standard Broadband includes the main fixed-line technologies which are capable of providing basic broadband of at least 144kbps download speed for end-users.  NGA Broadband includes the technologies which are needed to meet the Digital Agenda 30Mbps objective.

To achieve an accurate estimate of technologies and combinations, Point Topic successfully proposed a study which would map technology coverage at the level of sub-national regions.  The regions used follow the EU-sponsored scheme for “Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics” (NUTS), and specifically the NUTS 3 level which mostly corresponds to familiar administrative divisions such as counties, departements, or provinces.  Working at the regional level allows a much more firmly based assessment of total coverage and the split between the more urban and the rural sectors in each country.

National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) and operator respondents were asked to provide data at the country level and at the NUTS 3 level where possible.  Thanks not least to the very valuable support of DG Connect a high proportion of them did so.

Point Topic would like to take this opportunity to thank DG Connect and all the respondents to the survey for their support.  Particular thanks are due to IDATE, who also helped, with the approval of the FTTH Council, by providing their current country-level data on FTTP coverage.

Results

At the end of 2012 nearly all households in the European Union could access broadband services through at least one of the nine listed broadband technologies. The few sets of households not served by broadband services were located in Iceland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, where satellite broadband services were not available.

More than 99% of households could access standard broadband services through fixed or mobile services (HSPA or LTE), with over 95% able to access at least one fixed service.

As the chart shows, twenty of the thirty-one study countries had a total standard fixed coverage above the European Union average of 95.5%. All the countries below the EU average were in Eastern Europe except for Iceland, which was narrowly behind the average, and Finland. On the other hand, ten countries showed fixed broadband services being available to more than 99% of households.

Point Topic - European Commission - standard fixed broadband coverage by country

At the end of 2012 the European Union was more than half-way towards its target of 30Mbps access for all by 2020. 54% of EU households, or 113 million, were already covered by NGA services at the end of 2012.

Again, it was the most urbanised countries which had the highest NGA coverage but otherwise the pattern of high or low coverage was quite mixed. Countries with above average NGA coverage were found in all quarters of Europe, reflecting the effects of different development policies, infrastructure needs and technology choices.

Point Topic - European Commission - NGA broadband coverage by country

The gap is inevitably larger in rural areas, particularly where NGA is concerned. At the end of 2012, whilst rural households were relatively well served by standard broadband services only 12%, or 3.8 million,could receive NGA services. Improvements have been made, with coverage increasing by nearly 4% in 2012, but there is still a long way to go.

As far as individual technologies are concerned, the research shows that DSL is by far the most important fixed line broadband technology in Europe today, with 93% coverage of households. Standard cable comes next with 42%.

Point Topic - European Commission - standard coverage by technology

Looking at the NGA technologies, Docsis 3 (also included in the standard cable figures) was the most important with nearly 40% coverage. VDSL (included in the DSL figures) was next at 25%, and FTTP was available to 12% of households. VDSL coverage grew by more than 5 percentage points in 2012, making it the fastest growing fixed broadband technology in that period.

As for mobile broadband, HSPA covered nearly all of the EU with 96% of households passed. LTE coverage grew rapidly in 2012, and the service was available to 27% of European Union households at end-2012.

NGA coverage in the study countries

To establish the overlap between broadband technologies, Point Topic collected coverage data for every NUTS 3 area across Europe. In general, standard fixed broadband coverage was fairly consistent within a country. There can be significantly more variation in the coverage of NGA technologies, as shown in the map below.

The map shows that the major deficiencies in coverage are in Western Europe. Eastern and Northern Europe continued to perform well in delivering NGA services to their residents.

Point Topic - European Commission - NGA broadband coverage map

Conclusions

At the end of 2012, nearly all EU households had access to a standard broadband service. The European Commission can be pleased to be so close to meeting its target of delivering standard broadband to all by the end of 2013.

The challenge remains in delivering NGA broadband to all households by 2020, and particularly to rural households. Whilst results show an overall coverage increase of almost four percentage points in 2012, there is still a long way to go, particularly in some of the European Union’s largest countries.