Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Europe lags behind in broadband...but UK lags further still

In a recent interview with the BBC, Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Competition, stated that Europe is is lagging dangerously behind its economic rivals in the US and East Asia in terms of broadband provision. Kroes' comments were in relation to the Commission's new Digital Agenda for Europe, described in more detail here, with some interesting positive commentary from the BBC's Bill Thompson here. The agenda guarantees all 500 million people who live in the EU broadband access by 2013.

Fibre to the Home (FTTH) Council Europe President Chris Holden welcomed the agenda as "a first step in the right direction", but also highlighted a number of challenges:
“The (digital agenda) document requests 30Mbps bandwidth for each European household and at least 100Mbps for 50% of households by 2020. We have to ensure that these numbers will be guaranteed speeds and not just "up to" offerings. It will also be necessary for high speeds to be available in both directions: download and upload. The digital economy will be based on an active information exchange that not only consists of downloading data and content from the Internet."
Holden went further in an interview with V3, also reported by ThinkBroadband, to highlight just how far the UK lags behind:
"In the UK there are just 5,000 homes with FTTH connections, and only around 2.5 million in Europe. In the Far East, where government regulation is much more proactive, some 38 million people are connected directly via fibre... UK businesses could fall behind their European counterparts if networks are not suitably upgraded to handle new technologies that could improve their market position, such as videoconferencing.”
In the same interview, FTTH Council Europe Director General Hartwig Tauber outlined the importance of fibre over alternative access technologies:
"The operational expense of fibre is much lower than that of VDSL, and once fibre is in the ground it is much easier to boost its capabilities as you only need to improve the infrastructure from the back end, rather than digging up the streets...The applications that people will want in the future, such as being able to download HD movies, will need faster speeds. An HD video of 20GB would take five hours to download on VDSL speeds of 10Mbit/s, but just 30 minutes on fibre of 100Mbit/s."
He also predicted that Internet-connected TVs will play an important role in driving developments:
"People are very comfortable using their televisions for accessing content. HD TVs, perhaps with connected cameras, could open up a whole new era of communication that only fibre would be able to handle.”
Speaking to ITPro on the same topic, Tauber added:
“Summer last year South Korea announced it wanted to become a 1Gb country…and there was a clear push from Government. At the same time the UK released the Digital Britain report and wanted to become a 2Mbps country, 500 times smaller...It just illustrates in the decision making process that [the Government] has not realised the potential of telecoms, both economically and for society...If there is positive investment from the Government side, we see operators follow, but also if there is good competition in the last mile, this will drive it too.”
How far does yesterday's announcement go in addressing the FTTH Council Europe's concerns? We'll have to wait and see.

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