With more than 11 million new fixed lines laid in a year, the take-up of broadband internet continues to grow in Europe. However, mobile broadband, not fibre or DSL, remains the key growth engine in countries like Ireland and Austria.
According to a report published yesterday by the European Commission, 24pc of the EU population had a broadband access line subscription in July 2009, up from 21.6pc in July 2008.
Broadband momentum on rise
The report also shows that mobile broadband is gaining momentum in Europe, with a 54pc increase since January and now at a penetration rate of 4.2pc per 100 citizens. Last but not least, broadband internet connections in Europe are increasingly faster. Some 80pc of broadband lines in the EU now have download speeds of 2Mbps or greater (allowing the use of Web 2.0 and video streaming), which is 5pc up from last year.
“Despite the economic slowdown, Europe continues to have a very dynamic broadband market. Enhanced competition is driving better services, and consumers nowadays regard their broadband internet access as an essential part of life,” said EU Telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding.
“This is a good starting point for the next European Commission. Vibrant, high-speed broadband markets in a competitive single telecoms market are a strategic priority in the European digital agenda that is currently being prepared in the commission.
“High-speed internet broadband, whether via fibre networks or wireless, is a pre-condition for a strong digital economy in Europe and for European leadership in new technologies and applications.
“After the European Parliament and the council have agreed, on 5 November, a new and pro-competitive regulatory framework for Europe’s telecoms markets, I expect that the drive for the roll out of high-speed internet will now intensify across all EU Member States. Europe is clearly ready to make the next decade thoroughly digital,” Reding said.
New figures published by the commission show that in the last year the number of broadband lines continued to grow throughout the EU by 10.7pc on average (between July 2008 and July 2009), despite the gloomy economic environment.
On 1 July, 2009, there were around 120 million fixed-broadband lines in the EU, of which 11.5 million lines had been added since July 2008.
Denmark and the Netherlands continue to be world leaders in broadband take-up, with nearly 40pc of the population having a broadband connection, but growth rates are slowing as they approach saturation.
Eight European countries (Denmark 37.3pc, the Netherlands 36.2pc, Sweden 31.3pc, Finland 30.7pc, Luxembourg 28.8pc, France 27.7pc, Germany 27.5pc and now also Belgium 27.5pc) are above the United States, where the level of broadband take-up stands at 25.8pc and is slowing according to OECD May 2009 statistics. The United Kingdom is at 28.4pc. Luxembourg (+18.3pc) and Portugal (+11.7pc) experienced faster growth in 2009 than in 2008.
The average market share of incumbent telecoms operators in the EU is stable at around 45pc (highest at 80pc in Cyprus, 67pc in both Luxembourg and Finland, and lowest at 27pc in the UK).
However, incumbent control over the broadband markets (including resale of wholesale lines) is structurally in decline to the benefit of infrastructure base competition (basically through the local loop unbundling that enables access to the network by third parties).
Full unbundled local loops and shared access lines represent 71.4pc of Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) , up from 65.2pc one year ago. Growth in the number of unbundled local loops, although slower than last year, takes place at the expenses of resale, a type of low-investment access for new entrants, which has shrunk from 18.2pc to 10.6pc of DSL lines since 2008. Telecoms new entrants have appeared to invest progressively and have contributed to creating a more competitive broadband market.
The commission report also shows that EU citizens enjoy higher speeds and better quality broadband than a year ago. Some 80pc of broadband lines in the EU deliver speeds above 2Mbps (75pc a year ago), fast enough to watch streaming videos online, and more than 15pc above 10Mbps (up 10pc since January 2009). Greater data transmission speeds generally provide customers with more and better choice at a lower price per megabit.
DSL still common
In terms of technology, DSL remains the most diffused broadband access technology in Europe, with 94 million lines.
Fibre-to-the-home grew by 40pc between July 2008 and July 2009, but at the moment only represents 1.75pc of the total lines in Europe as it is present only in a handful of countries: Latvia has the largest share of fibre lines over the total number of broadband lines, followed by Sweden which has the largest number of fibre lines.
Broadband access based on mobile technologies (which typically allow mobile internet via laptops) is particularly taking off in Austria (13.8pc), Sweden (12.6pc), Portugal (10.8pc) and Ireland (8.3pc).
The current mobile broadband penetration in Europe stands at 4.2pc, a 54pc increase since January 2009.
By John Kennedy
Photo: The take-up of broadband internet is growing in Europe.