Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011

A new study by Point Topic for the European Commission

This free report focuses on European trends in broadband coverage at the end of 2011. The report is an extract from the full study 'Broadband Coverage in Euopre in 2011', which was completed by Point Topic for the European Commission.

The purpose of the Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011 (BCE 2011) 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 2011 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 Information Society and Media, DG INFSO (now 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.”

This report focuses on the key results for Europe.

Download the full report

Coverage by technology combinations

For the first time the project was able to estimate the availability of broadband services across all the countries of the European Union (plus Norway and Iceland) taking account of all the main broadband technologies and of their distribution at sub-national level.

The results show that 95.7% of EU homes, over 200 million altogether, had access to at least a basic level of fixed broadband service by the end of 2011.  (The figures for the study countries as a whole are virtually the same as the chart shows.)  Over 50% of EU homes – 105 million – already had “Next Generation Access” services available to them, capable of delivering 30Mbps or more.  This is an encouraging half-way milestone on the road to the Digital Agenda target of 30Mbps access for all by 2020.

The gap is inevitably larger in rural areas, particularly where NGA is concerned.  78.4% of rural EU homes have access to standard broadband but only 12.1% have NGA available.  Thus 35 million of the 40 million rural homes in Europe are waiting for NGA to arrive and bringing it to them is likely to require considerable effort and investment.

Point Topic - European coverage of broadband technology combinations - BCE 2011

Total coverage by technology

Point Topic - European coverage of broadband technology - BCE 2011

The chart above provides a profile of broadband coverage in Europe as of the end of 2011.  Key conclusions are summarised below.

  1. DSL is by far the most important standard fixed broadband technology in Europe, with total coverage of over 92% of households
  2. The cable networks account for the next largest contribution to standard broadband coverage with 42%
  3. WiMAX is considerably less important with under 15% coverage across the study countries as a whole
  4. When the coverage of all these networks is combined, also taking account of FTTP which is the only service available in some areas, the research shows that about 96% of the homes in Europe have access to at least a basic fixed-broadband service (called Total Standard Coverage, or TSC).
  5. For fixed next-generation access (NGA) services the picture is considerably different.  Here Docsis 3 over the cable networks is clearly the most important service at present with 37% coverage across Europe.
  6. VDSL, the figures for which are also included in DSL, is the next biggest NGA service with 21% coverage.  FTTP comes third on 12%.
  7. Combining the net contribution of these services gives Total NGA Coverage of over 50% (50.2%).  Although 37% of this is provided by Docsis 3 alone, the 33% of total coverage of VDSL plus FTTP adds only 13% net coverage because of overlap between the technologies.
  8. HSPA has almost 95% coverage in Europe on its own, ahead of DSL and only 0.8% short of TSC.  But the performance over this service area is not very closely defined.
  9. LTE on the other hand is the newest and currently the least widespread technology studied, with under 9% coverage.  Most of this is due to a small number of countries but the number of countries and networks is increasing rapidly.
  10. The new KA-band satellites are able to offer two-way broadband services of 2Mbps and above to virtually 100% of the premises within their footprints.  After allowing for countries outside the footprints, or where satellite service providers are not active, this translates to 96% coverage of the study countries.

For completeness the chart shows total coverage for both the 29 study countries as a whole and the 27 countries of the European Union only.  Clearly the two are virtually identical.  Norway and Iceland, the non-EU countries included, account for only 1% of the population covered by the research.  Although they are considerably more rural than the study countries as a whole – Norway is the most rural of them all – their rural areas are better served by broadband than average so the differences tend to cancel out.

Both averages are shown in the charts in this section and the country comparisons which follow but they are not usually distinguished in the text.

Rural coverage by technology

Besides researching the total coverage of broadband technologies the BCE 2011 project was also tasked to provide data on the coverage of the rural areas of Europe.  Because of the financial barriers to supplying broadband in areas of low population density, the rural part of Europe is expected to present the most difficulty for achieving both the basic and 30Mbps Digital Agenda objectives.

Point Topic - rural European coverage of broadband technology combinations - BCE 2011

The current situation reflects those difficulties.  Standard broadband coverage in rural Europe is 78% against 96% for the study countries as a whole.  The headline gap for NGA is much greater, with 12% coverage so far in rural areas against 50% as whole.

Note also that the definition of rurality is quite limited.  Looking at the smallest administrative areas, only those with less than 100 inhabitants per square kilometre are classified as rural.  Many whole provinces or even whole countries have population densities below this level but seen in finer detail they are a mix of urban and rural areas.  (For convenience here we describe all areas which are not rural as urban, although many of them would not be described or recognised as towns or even suburbs in ordinary usage.)

Less than 19% of the population of Europe is estimated to live in rural areas on this definition, although full statistics are not available.  But even areas with much higher densities than 100 persons per square kilometer will generally be uneconomic for the roll-out of new broadband networks on a purely commercial basis.

Looking at the rural profile, key conclusions are:

  1. Even more than for the market as a whole, DSL is the main provider of fixed broadband access in rural areas.  It provides 73% of rural coverage overall, which contributes 94% of rural standard coverage (RSC).
  2. Despite the hopes expressed for it, WiMAX contributes less than 12% gross coverage to RSC so far.  Even for WiMAX, urban areas offer more attractive markets.
  3. Cable makes an slightly smaller gross contribution to coverage than WiMAX, at 11%.  Given that cable networks need high population densities to achieve an economic return it is surprising that the figure is so high.
  4. However, Docsis 3 cable is the biggest contributor to rural NGA coverage (RNC).  With nearly 8% coverage it represents 66% of total RNC.
  5. VDSL contributes another 4% to RNC and because of the existing twisted-copper-pair telephone networks in most areas it has the potential to do much more.
  6. FTTP makes a negligible contribution to rural NGA at present, at less than 1% coverage, as would be expected from its economics.  The total may be understated slightly because of the incidence of very small FTTP projects which fall below the size required for inclusion in the BCE 2011 research.
  7. One positive factor for Rural NGA is that where networks do exist they are much more likely to be complementary than in the market as a whole.  Rural VDSL, FTTP and Docsis 3 together have gross coverage of 12.5% and Point Topic estimates their net coverage at 11.9%, which is 95% efficient in terms of avoiding overlaps.
  8. HSPA looks like the broadband saviour for some rural areas, with 79% coverage compared with 78% for the rural standard combination.  On a simple model the combined rural coverage of HSPA and RSC should be about 90%.
  9. LTE on the other hand has yet to make an appearance in rural areas, with Germany as the shining exception and Sweden some way behind, giving an overall average of 4%.  This pattern suggests that LTE is unlikely to make much contribution to rural coverage unless it is mandated or subsidised in some way.
  10. Satellite achieves the same percentage coverage in rural areas as for whole countries and its capabilities are better suited to rural demand.

Coverage by NUTS 3 areas

Map: Standard broadband coverage in the study countries

 Point Topic - European standard broadband coverage map - BCE 2011

As far as standard coverage is concerned, the map shows a continent which has virtually complete coverage in its towns and cities, and their surroundings, but still has some way to go in the countryside.

The countries with the densest populations (Malta, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK) already show 100% coverage.  So do many urban areas right across the continent.  Many whole countries have reached the 95% coverage level.  At the other end of the scale, only a few areas have below 75% coverage but over 200 are below 90%.  Many more would be found to have more limited coverage than is shown here if more stringent criteria for broadband performance were applied.  Simply quoting over 95% standard coverage understates the scale of the task still to be accomplished to meet the first of the Digital Agenda objectives.

Map: NGA coverage areas in the study countries

 Point Topic - European NGA broadband coverage map - BCE 2011

 Looking at NGA coverage the picture is almost reversed in some ways.  Here countries in the eastern half of the EU are ahead of many of those on the western side.  After the Netherlands, Malta and Belgium, at or near 100% coverage – largely due to the extent of their cable networks – many of the leaders – Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovenia etc – are in the eastern half of the EU.  They have seized the opportunity to overcome the deficiencies of their legacy networks by rolling out fibre to serve large apartment blocks where the economics can be very attractive.

Many areas with above average NGA coverage are in the eastern EU while many in the West have no coverage at all.  208 NUTS 3 areas had 0% NGA availability at the end of 2011; 60% of all NUTS 3 areas had below the average 50% coverage.  Here again there is a long way to go.

Find out more

More information on broadband availability and coverage can be found in Point Topic’s Broadband Competition Map of Europe. Please e-mail or telephone +44 (0)20 3301 3303 for more details.