Comprehensive Study on Broadband Coverage in Europe

17 Dec

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A couple of weeks ago, research firm Point Topic published a thick report commissioned by DG Connect and entitled Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011. I wanted to understand a little better how the study had been undertaken, and so I spoke to Point Topic’s Tim Johnson. Here is our exchange in extenso:

Benoît Felten: Hello Tim, can you introduce yourself for our readers?

Tim Johnson: Yes, I was the founder of Point Topic and now I’m “Consultant Analyst” with them.  Before that I started Ovum, and before that, a long time before that, I was a science journalist.  I’ve been researching and analysing data communications since the 1970’s at least.

BF: Point Topic recently released a report mapping broadband connectivity in Europe. What exactly is in this report and how did it come to be?

TJ: The report was commissioned by DG Connect, the part of the European Commission which is responsible for the Digital Agenda initiative.  The aim was to get figures for the coverage of 9 different broadband technologies in each of the EU 27 countries plus Norway and Iceland.  We pointed out in our proposal that you couldn’t achieve what they wanted unless you gathered data at a more detailed level than whole countries. So for the first time, I think, we have collected broadband data on the provincial level right across Europe.

BF: What was the goal of DG Connect in commissioning that report?

TJ: The Digital Agenda has the objective, amongst others, of providing 100% coverage of EU homes with broadband of at least 30Mbps by 2020. They wanted to know, how far we have got with that objective and where the gaps were.

BF: So where does one find the data to do such an analysis (without betraying any trade secrets) ?

TJ: No secret.  The project centered on a Survey of NRAs and operators.  We created a questionnaire and got them to fill it out.  Many did and some didn’t.  So we had a parallel research program to get whatever public data was available.  And to fill the remaining gaps we did constraint modeling to show where coverage was likely to be – nobody builds cable networks in the countryside for example.

BF: So a mix of hard data and modeled data.

TJ: Yes.  One thing we were determined on was that there would be no “Not Available” type blanks.  The methodology provides a basic answer in all cells.  Now we have won the contract to update the work next year.  Now they see what happens to the data, respondents are much more engaged than they were before.

BF: What would say are the key findings, first in terms of how far Europe is in meeting the goals set by the EC?

TJ: The coverage of superfast or NGA broadband is just over 50%, by a fortunate chance, so we have said that Europe is half-way to “Digital Heaven”.  Basic broadband coverage is pretty good, about 96% from memory.  The relative shares of the different NGA technologies are interesting too.

BF: How is superfast defined, in this case?

TJ: Anything that can deliver 30Mbps or more downstream. Fixed line that is – LTE doesn’t count.

BF: Anything that can or anything that does?

TJ: That can, many customers will still be running on lower and usually cheaper speeds.

BF: Part of the purpose of these studies, I guess, is to identify who’s doing well and who’s doing not so well, to rank countries as it were. So who are the best in class and who are the worst in class?

TJ: I spent the early part of last week producing 29 press releases, one for each of the study countries, and my aim was to put a positive headline on every one.  The only one which didn’t get some sort of good mark was Sweden, as the bright child which was not living up to its potential. The Netherlands has the most complete coverage, 100% superfast already.  Cyprus has 0% but will soon have 100% or close.  Worse off otherwise is Greece.

BF: Why is Sweden not living up to its potential? That’s very interesting!

TJ: In our view because it majored too much on FTTP in the early 90s and has failed to develop more cost effective alternatives such as VDSL for low density areas. It now has a lower FTTP coverage than Denmark, for example, lower overall superfast than Norway, yet Sweden is still thought of as the poster child for “most advanced telecoms economy in Europe”, if not the world.

BF: I just scanned the press releases. Indeed it’s like you strive to point out how everyone is a good boy (except Sweden). Was that a request of DG Connect?

TJ: Not specifically but we understood each other I think.  It kept me going through the 29 – what can I say which is special about this one. The press releases were our idea anyway – I don’t think DG Connect would have done them

BF: OK. So what’s next? You mentioned that Point Topic will be doing some further analysis for DG Connect. Is it just a yearly continuation of this assessment, or does it go into more detail?

TJ: This is essentially a repeat of the first one but with a lot more knowledge and experience.  It should be much the same but better.

BF: Well good luck with that new iteration then, and let’s speak again when the results are out next year!

TJ: Yes, I look forward to that.  We are doing a lot of other work in the area so we hope to have more news before then.

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