Broadband speeds increasing but Europe must do more
Date: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 13:10
Broadband connections in Europe are much faster than one year ago according to statistics published today by the European Commission. In July 2010 29% of EU broadband lines had speeds of at least 10 megabits per second (Mbps) (up from 15% one year earlier).Broadband take up continues to grow in the EU with 25.6 subscriptions for every 100 citizens (23.9 one year earlier). Annual growth in mobile broadband is remarkable at 45%, with 6 mobile broadband dedicated access devices (usb-keys or dongles) per 100 citizens. But there is still a long way to go before EU reaches its targets of giving every European access to basic broadband by 2013 and fast and ultra fast broadband by 2020 as outlined in the Digital Agenda for Europe
Measures to facilitate the roll out and take up of fast and ultra-fast broadband in the EU were presented by the Commission in September 2010. Neelie Kroes, Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda, said "Fast broadband is digital oxygen, essential for Europe's prosperity and well-being. Take up and available speeds are improving, but we need to do more to reach our very fast broadband targets. In particular, we need urgent agreement on our proposal to ensure radio spectrum is available for mobile broadband, for which demand is growing very fast."
In July 2010, almost one third of EU broadband lines delivered speeds above 10 Mbps (15% in July 2009). Greater data transmission speeds generally provide customers with more and better choice of services at a lower price per megabit. 5% of lines in the EU have average speeds at or above 30 Mbps (only 0.5% at or above 100 Mbps).
New entertainment and business services, such as high definition television or video conferencing facilities, need much faster internet access than generally available in Europe today to match world leaders like South Korea and Japan. The Digital Agenda 2020 targets are at least 30 Mbps available for all and half of European households subscribing to speeds above 100 Mbps.
The new statistics also show that between July 2009 and July 2010, the number of broadband lines continued to grow throughout the EU by 8% (albeit more slowly than the 11% growth of a year before). As of July 2010 there were around 128 million fixed broadband lines in the EU, with 9 million new lines added since July 2009. There are approximately 220 million households in the EU.
The Netherlands and Denmark continue to be world leaders in broadband take up (nearly 40 lines per 100 citizens, reaching about 80% of households). Growth rates are slowing as their markets mature and approach saturation (in leading Member States, such as Finland and Sweden, fixed broadband take-up rates are actually falling probably due to fixed-to-mobile broadband substitution.)
Nine EU countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Sweden and UK) have levels of broadband take up above the United States (US levels are 26.4 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, according to OECD May 2010 statistics). Greece and the Czech Republic made the best progress in the last year (measured by per capita growth).
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) remains the most common technology to access broadband in Europe with 100 million lines, but its market share is declining in favour of higher-speed fibre architectures and cable with Docsis 3.0 (an upgrade of cable networks allowing very-high speed internet). Fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) grew by 40% between July 2009 and July 2010, but currently only represents 1.7% of the total lines in Europe as it is present only in a handful of countries (notably Sweden, where 24% of broadband lines are FTTH).
Mobile broadband growing rapidly
Mobile broadband access (e.g. dongles for laptops) is taking off in a number of Member States, in particular Finland (21.5 mobile broadband dedicated access lines through usb-keys/datacards/dongles per 100 citizens), Austria (16.7), Sweden (14), Denmark (13.4) and Portugal (12.1). Current mobile broadband penetration in Europe stands at 6%, a 45% increase since July 2009.
The average market share of incumbent telecoms operators in the EU fell slightly to around 44% (highest at 76% in Cyprus, 68% in Finland and 66% in Luxembourg; and lowest at 28% in Romania and the UK and 32% in Bulgaria). However, incumbent domination of broadband markets (including resale of wholesale lines) is structurally in decline to the benefit of infrastructure-based competition (basically through local loop unbundling that enables access to the network by third parties). Fully unbundled local loops and shared access lines represent 74.8% of the alternative operators' Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL), up from 71.4% one year ago. Growth in the number of unbundled local loops, although slower than last year, takes place at the expenses of resale, a type of low-investment access for new entrants, which has shrunk from 10.6% to 8.9% of DSL lines since 2009. New entrants to telecoms markets appear to have invested progressively which has helped create a more competitive broadband market.
The broadband package presented in September 2010 comprises a Commission Recommendation on regulated access to Next Generation Access (NGA) networks that ensures an appropriate balance between the need to encourage investment and the need to safeguard competition, a proposal for a Decision to establish a Radio Spectrum Policy Programme to ensure, inter alia, that spectrum is available for wireless broadband and a Broadband Communication on encouraging investment.