Report: Europe lags in full fibre roll out

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The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the key role that fibre networks will play in European economic recovery, according to participants at a virtual event – Delivering the Full-Fibre Gigabit Society: Challenges and Opportunities – organised by Forum Europe.

With about 90 per cent of all Internet traffic in Europe carried over fixed broadband (FBB), full fibre networks are vital in order to meet increasing need for gigabit connectivity as work and services are being shifted online. They also offer ultra-low latency, which makes them highly suitable for use alongside WiFi 6 and 5G; and use less energy than alternatives so are a better fit to a green agenda. However, Europe is lagging behind benchmarks for roll out around the world and there is currently an investment gap, according to the findings of a new report – Full-fibre access as strategic infrastructure: strengthening public policy for Europe – published by consultancy Analysys Mason and revealed at the event.

The shortage to reach EU’s strategic connectivity objectives for 2025 is of as much as €65 billion per year, according to Franco Accordino, Head of Unit ‘Investment in High-Capacity Networks’, DG CONNECT, European Commission discussing the report with telecom industry representatives.

“Europe needs to shift to a more ‘dirigiste’ approach to meet the European Commission’s ambitious targets for the roll-out of very high capacity networks and of delivering the gigabit society,” declared Ian Watt, Lead Enterprise Consultant, Custom Research  at Analysys Mason. The research reveals that many countries look set to miss these targets and Europe more broadly is lagging behind benchmarks that are being seen in other regions.

“Around the world, the current crisis has shone a light on the need for robust internet connectivity. Economies will eventually re-emerge even more dependent on the digital sphere. In Europe, state involvement in the economy has suddenly grown, with the emphasis on longer-term solutions, not temporary fixes.  Governments will look for the best-targeted measures to get things moving again. A focus on full-fibre as strategic infrastructure is a good place to start,” said Watt, introducing the study.

“The aftermath of the crisis is expected to accelerate the need for gigabit connectivity, paving the way to even more digitally intensive ways of working, doing business, delivering public services, education or health,” suggested Accordino. “This will require adequate capabilities in terms of bandwidth, low latency and resilience. By spearheading investment in 5G and fibre infrastructures, CEF (Connecting Europe Facility) Digital will contribute to Member States efforts in reaching the EU’s 2025 Gigabit objectives. Moreover, CEF will create synergies with other programmes such as Invest EU and Digital Europe and will be complemented by the European Structural Investment Funds.”

Aurélie Bladocha Coelho, Director, Communications, for the FTTH Council Europe, stressed that in the current context, ubiquitous and reliable digital infrastructures are critical and the latest data show that fibre roll-outs are taking place faster across Europe. “As the only future-proof infrastructure, also enabling significant energy-savings, fibre networks are an essential part of the European economic recovery and key to deliver on the ambitions of the European Green deal,” she asserted.

“This crisis has taught us that the importance of connectivity cannot be underestimated,” commented Michel Van Bellinghen, incoming 2021 Chair, BEREC. “Promoting full connectivity will guide our work for the coming years and BEREC will ensure a harmonised implementation of the EECC by developing the necessary Guidelines.”

“Fibre is fundamental in the evolution of communication networks,” stressed Dr. Luca Pesando, Chairman, Industry Specification Group on Fifth Generation Fixed Network (F5G), at standards body ETSI. “It is needed for many services provided on fibre directly to the end users, and fibre is the enabler for the mobile 5G disruptive services to become real.”

The independent study, commissioned by Huawei Europe, describes the current status of, and case for, extending coverage of full-fibre access networks in Europe, the challenges involved, international best practice, and the need for a coherent and positive set of policies to deliver such high-performance networks for the decades to come.

Martin Xu, President of Huawei Global Government Affairs, stated that: “There is a proven role for governments to more actively promote the deployment of full-fibre networks. Policymakers should also consider implementing better incentives for fibre pre-deployment in new building constructions. As a major contributor to the global ICT industry, Huawei is always willing to work closely with governments, operators and technology partners to achieve our primary goal – to build a better and fully connected world.”

Hui Cao, Head of Strategy & Policy, Huawei Europe, highlighted importance of fibre for a smarter and more sustainable future. “The increasing Internet traffic requires more investment in fibre deployment, improvement of bandwidth and capacity, and enhancement of the network experience. When we choose fibre, we are also choosing green. Full-fibre networks are able to achieve at least 60 per cent more energy savings compared to other broadband technologies. Therefore, they can be an excellent component of Europe’s Green Deal – for a smarter and more sustainable future for all. Green fibre can be the cornerstone of the sustainability efforts of the European gigabit society, while also facilitating the digitisation that is here to support our Union’s economic recovery,” he advised.

The report concludes that a more dirigiste approach is required, and that public money is best spent on enabling the conditions for flourishing competition-driven innovation and service improvement. This means a focus on fibre as strategic infrastructure, which should encourage the greatest possible diversity of vendors, operating companies and services. “In our view policy should encourage options for access at as low a layer of the network as is feasible, that is, physical infrastructure or dark fibre access, and that public money, where required, should be spent enabling such low-layer access,” concluded Watt.

 


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