The EU’s Digital Agenda 2020 (30Mbps) is needed more than ever before

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“10Mbps per person needed to work and learn from home.”

An employee of a major European telecoms operator working on a Hybrid Internet Access project suddenly found himself working from home during the lock-down where he has a less than 10 Mbps connection to the Internet. Normally he could just about work from home but now that his partner and children are also at home there is not enough bandwidth. He is on his corporate VPN, while his family also needs internet access. He decided to use one of the hybrid CPE’s at home, thereby  bonding his DSL line with the mobile network, achieving 30+ Mbps (and an upload speed of more than 10 Mbps). The family’s internet needs have now been met.

Meanwhile in Croatia, one of our Sales Managers, well used to working from home and having video conferences with customers around the world, suddenly has three new ‘co-workers’. His wife, a secondary school teacher, and two teenage children are providing and attending online lessons. Drazen is lucky though, he has a 30 Mbps connection and everything is working fine.

“… there are numerous devices connected to our home Wi-Fi, with additional ‘high impact devices’, like smart TVs, connected over Ethernet. After working hours, the same connection is allowing us to stream 4k Netflix or Amazon Prime content and in parallel, our kids can play games online, or stream music or videos from Youtube.”

Drazen goes on to say, 

“…a decent 30 Mbps DSL connection is serving all our connectivity needs today to stay productive under COVID-19 lockdown. Notably, we would see no improvement in our productivity if we had another 970 Mbps (1Gbps), however if we had only 10 or 20 Mbps, we would not be able to stay productive. We would have to choose if I can work, or if my children can attend online classes. Those are not choices that we should be forced to make in 2020.”

Every household in the EU should have access to a minimum download speed of 30 Mbps – this was the goal of the EU 2020 digital agenda but it was not reached and was silently abandoned; it must be brought into focus again. Instead of chasing 1Gbps for the few, we must first make sure that all in our society have access to 30 Mbps.

According to Professor William Webb of Webb Search Consultancy (www.webbsearch.co.uk):

“We tend to think that faster is always better. And we like to think in round numbers. So a Gigabit home connection appeals to our sense of progress – we’ve got Megabits, next comes Gigabits. But that is a little like saying we’ve got cars that go 100mph, let’s now have cars that go 1,000mph. Better, perhaps, but really of little use right now. Equally cars that go 10mph are not much use either. We should step back from this simplistic thinking and look at what we really need – and it turns out to be roughly 10Mbits/s per person in the home. So most homes have 2-3 residents and need 30Mbits/s, some a bit more. Few need more than 100Mbits/s. Perhaps they might in some distant future, and perhaps cars might fly by then. But let’s sort the current problems out and deliver sufficiently faster broadband for all. Once we’ve done that we can see whether Gigabit connectivity is the next step.”

Hybrid Internet access (bonding existing DSL and 4G/(or 5G) networks) is one very credible option to quickly reach that goal and is being used in several EU countries; others should follow their lead now, to the benefit of their customers and society as a whole.

Hybrid access is currently being used across Europe in Germany, Austria, Croatia, The Netherlands, Belgium, Lithuania, Finland, Malta and others to either bring customers up to the 30 Mbps standard or to provide even higher speeds and additional resilience.

In Germany, hundreds of thousands of Deutsche Telekom customers benefit from Hybrid Access. In Austria, A1 can provide 98% of their customers with high speed broadband thanks to Hybrid Access; without Hybrid Access they would only be able to reach 60% of their customers with a 40 Mbps product on their fixed network. In The Netherlands, KPN provides Hybrid Access to their customers in (usually rural) underserved areas.

All over Europe, governments, regulators and operators are focused on expanding fibre networks. This is a valid activity but progress is slow and costly. We believe policy makers, regulators and operators should turn their attention now to providing 30Mbps to all before resuming focus on longer term fibre goals.

In 2015, EU Broadband ambitions were described in ‘EU Broadband Strategy & Policy’¹. All EU citizens were to have 30 Mbps by 2020 and 50% were to have in excess of 100 Mbps. As of the latest DESI (Digital Society and Economy Index) report from September 2019, just 83% of EU households had access to 30Mbps, therefore 10s of millions fall below this target. It’s time to change the focus, and utilising Hybrid Access technology to deliver gains in a matter of months rather than years is an option.

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¹Strategy & Policy | Broadband Europe | Shaping Europe’s digital future

Author : Graham Turnbull

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