Comparing the picture of broadband in the UK with other countries across Europe is a popular past time. The latest Broadband Coverage in Europe 2015 report is out and uses the same methodology across the 28 European countries to allow comparisons to be made.
The main caveat is that it takes time to produce reports like this, and the underlying data for the report is from May/June 2015, so various countries may have advanced considerably in some of the measurements included in the report, even so with that caveat in place the comparisons are useful.
The coverage levels of superfast broadband are a key target for the EU which has the ambition of 100% superfast coverage in 2020. There is a difference between NGA availability and superfast coverage, i.e. distance has been factored in for VDSL2 technology, and the UK in May 2015 is reported as around 87-88%, i.e. around 1% higher than our own tracking had for that time frame. Since then we have seen a further 6.1% of superfast coverage added to our figures, what we don't know is how rapidly countries like Lithuania are expanding coverage, i.e. is growth in the UK faster than the other countries.
Of course superfast broadband (30 Mbps and faster) while a big improvement for many is not the end game, and the UK is starting to embark down a path of wider FTTP availability (i.e. 2 million Openreach, 1 million Virgin Media and then a longer tail of others that may reach 1 million by 2020). The FTTP chart shows the UK firmly at the bottom end of the table but if G.fast does deliver ultrafast speeds to 10 million, combining this with the expanding Virgin Media cable foot print should put the UK in a fairly good ultrafast position. There is a very important question, does a 100 Mbps download speed connection (10-20 Mbps uploads) delivering 15 to 25ms latency behave significantly different for online tasks between the various ultrafast capable technologies?
The rural data from the report is interesting, and to ensure a consistent methodology across the EU a system of 1km squares was used, with a square classed as rural if it had less than 100 premises in it. This differs from the UK ONS classification approach we currently use, so our figures will not be directly comparable, but the 47%-48% in the report shows what many are complaining of. Delving into the datasets supplied we can see the report considered the UK to have 25,7787,781 households, with 2,264,533 fitting into the rural classification which is 8.7%. Using the UK ONS definition we have modelled the UK has having 23% of premises in rural areas, if one combines villages and hamlets then we get a similar percentage of premises and NGA(fibre) and superfast coverage figures are similar. Using the ONS classification rural superfast coverage has grown 13% since May 2015 and NGA coverage a larger 18%, so we expect the EU figure to have grown by similar margins. The difference between the NGA and superfast figure is higher than the UK average because of the dispersed nature of premises in rural areas.
A very interesting comment when the report was discussing the levels of NGA coverage was the use of the phrase 'highly urbanised' for the countries with over 95% NGA coverage. Running the numbers for those with better NGA coverage than the UK we can see the percentage of rural premises: Malta 1%, Switzerland 15%, Belgium 5%, Netherlands 8%, Lithuania 35%, Luxembury 13%, Denmark 17%, Portugal 17% and UK 9%. So the UK is looking very urban in that company and Lithuania with 35% rural premises and managing 84.4% FTTP coverage in those rural areas is doing very well and the country level stats appear to reveal why, no DSL or VDSL or cable, i.e. skipped first generation broadband and went straight to a FTTP deployment (the growth of FTTP in rural areas of Lithuania was just 0.6% between 2014 and 2015 so roll-outs may have stalled).