Emerging leaders in high-speed broadband

Thursday 25 April 2013 | 11:47 CET | Background

Countries with active cable operators are growing the number of households able to receive 50Mbps or higher internet speeds more quickly, according to research by Telecompaper. In addition to upgrading their own networks for faster speeds, cable companies stimulate the competition to improve their (V)DSL networks or develop fibre services, leading to more activity on the high-speed network front. Unsurprisingly countries with difficult terrains and/or very large populations are not moving as fast in rolling out next-generation broadband, even when they have governments actively promoting or deploying high-speed internet networks.

Telecompaper recently produced a Research Brief on the top countries worldwide in terms of households able to subscribe to broadband at a minimum 50 Mbps. In this latest publication, we look at those countries that fell just outside our global top fifteen. These emerging broadband leaders include Belgium, Romania, Switzerland, Iceland and Germany. We also take a look at other countries that show promise for expanded access in the near future.

Falling just outside our global top fifteen (but included in the European top ten) were two countries with a homes passed percentage of 88 percent, Belgium and Romania.

Belgium and Romania close to the top

Belgium is one of the few countries where there is very little FTTH activity. The network coverage by cable companies Telenet, Voo and Numericable is now reaching the vast majority of Belgian households. Incumbent Belgacom showed in its latest investor presentation that it has chosen to focus on vectoring and Dynamic Line Management (DLM) on its VDSL2 network to increase its internet speeds up too 100Mbps (its highest speed currently offered is 30 Mbps) but hasn’t starting to implement this yet. It has also stated that it will deploy FTTH in new residential areas from H2 2013 onwards, although the BIPT has recently said that Belgacom will then face the same regulation for FTTH as it currently does for DSL. This may affect Belgacom’s decision on where and when to deploy fibre. Once Belgacom has implemented vectoring and DLM across its network, Belgium’s percentage should already increase quite considerably, whether they will start with fibre or not.

Romania has two main cable companies, UPC and RCS. UPC has deployed Docsis 3.0 while RCS has focused on FTTB, and both are now offering plans with speeds of 100Mbps or more.  Incumbent Romtelecom offers high speed broadband packages based on its own fibre network, but is also active in the cable sector via its subsidiary NextGen Communications. However, Romania has many remote areas where the overall internet penetration is much lower than in the urban areas as well as many households without (access to) a computer and many people still using dial up to connect to the internet.

Several countries with at least three-quarters of households capable of receiving 50+Mbps

Not far behind Belgium and Romania is Switzerland where we estimate around 80 percent of housholds is capable of receiving 50Mbps internet services.  Three other countries where around or nearly three-quarters of the households could access high speed internet are Estonia, Germany and Iceland.

Incumbent Swisscom is active in laying fibre but at the end of 2012 still only covered 12 percent of the population while Cablecom, belonging to LGI, using Docsis 3.0, is available to over 2 million homes in Switzerland. However, Switzerland has improved much as during our last research in 2011 its coverage amounted to 62 percent. Of course Switzerland’s mountainous terrain makes it one of the more difficult places to lay a full countrywide fixed broadband network.

In Estonia consumer can choose between Elion, part of TeliaSonera which is deploying fibre and Starman which is a cable company. Starman’s network is fully covered by Docsis3.0 while Elion is continuing to increase the fibre coverage of its network.

The German situation is more difficult to assess as there is a large number of providers offering broadband services. The two largest providers are cable companies UnityMedia Kabel BW and Kabel Deutschland, plus many small regional players both cable and FttH. Incumbent Telekom Deutschland has started to deploy fibre but is also working on upgrading its VDSL network via vectoring.

Iceland too does not have an easy geography to obtain (near) full high speed broadband coverage, but Siminn, Vodafone and Tal are all continuously increasing their fibre coverage.  There is however also some overlap taking place, as presumably each operator wants to maximise its potential among the relative low number of households in Iceland.

UK, Finland, Ukraine, France and Slovakia all are making progress too but all these countries have various regions with low density of population which makes the deployment of any fixed infrastructure more expensive.

Various governments encourage or enforce increasing broadband speeds

There are also a number of countries where the coverage is currently still quite low, partially due to the large number of households such as in China, USA and Russia or because the deployment of various technologies has only just been started. Some of these countries have active governments which have set up their own versions of National Broadband Plans and which are actively investing in creating the environment to enable households to have access to high speed broadband.

In Australia the government set up the National Broadband Network which actually started deploying in 2010, aiming to provide via a mix of technologies: fibre, fixed wireless and satellite, where fibre should be available to 93 percent of Australian homes. The initial final date was set for 2021 but there have been rumours that it will be delayed.

In New Zealand the government has initiated the Ultrafast Broadband Initiative (UFB), which should enable three-quarters of New Zealanders to have access to FTTP by the end of 2019, with speeds of at least 100Mbps. The challenges arising from New Zealand’s geography are evident in the aim that outside of the UFB areas there will also be the RBI, the Rural Broadband Initiative. This aims to connect 86 percent of rural homes and businesses with broadband at 5Mbps by the end of 2015.

Malaysia is another country with a currently low percentage but one that could increase quickly and where the government has set goals to reach more broadband access across the country, although not necessarily in all areas at high speeds.

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