IPTV roll-out obstacle as fibre fails to light up in mass numbers across Europe

Joseph O'Halloran | 28-11-2012

Even though the European Union is half way towards its plan of making sure all its citizens can access superfast broadband at home by 2020, the roll-out of fibre that will support IPTV and other advanced video services is slow.

According to the Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011 study by Point Topic for DG Connect, the department of the European Commission responsible for its Digital Agenda strategy, almost 96% of homes in Europe can now get basic broadband, meaning services offering at least 144kbps, if they want to subscribe. Over half have access to so-called next generation access (NGA) providing 30Mbps or more, and only three EU countries have less than 90% coverage.

However, and in what may come to represent a gating commercial development factor to IPTV proliferation, the survey also uncovered huge variations in the availability of high speed broadband. Moreover, and contrary to a widespread impression that some studies and marketing campaigns have suggested, FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) is taking a relatively small share.

"Despite all the publicity, FTTP doesn't offer the main route to digital heaven, at least not for the time being," explained Tim Johnson, who led the project as Point Topic's chief analyst. "So far, FTTP covers only 12% of homes. The biggest providers of superfast service are the cable TV networks which can now reach 37% of EU homes with the up-to-date DOCSIS 3 standard."

Also VDSL, the technology for providing superfast speeds over a telephone network and which is used as the connection from the kerb for BT's Infinity fibre service, only reached just over a fifth of EU homes by the end of 2011. The three technologies together add up to only 50% total superfast coverage because they overlap a lot, competing to serve the richer and more densely populated areas while leaving others underserved.

Neelie Kroes, the EC vice-president responsible, has earmarked 7 billion for EU investments in broadband to help reach digital agenda targets, which in turn is meant to draw in private funds of many times that amount. She said: "This study gives us the best view so far of where action is needed on broadband coverage. It will help to guide decisions on where EU and private money can be invested to provide the best long-term return for taxpayers and investors, such as pension funds."