Will Germany have the last laugh on broadband availability?
The UK leads Germany in a number of broadband metrics and it shares a common pattern that VDSL and vectoring have been backed by the commercial operators so it is something of a surprise to see the German chancellor make a joke of their nationwide broadband plan for 2018 being vastly superior to the UK plans that are actively being built.
The joke may actually have been less about the coverage targets, as finding a definitive percentage target for the German 2018 project is difficult as nationwide keeps being mentioned, and anyone following UK broadband knows that nationwide can mean anything from 48% to 100%. What is new in the last week or two is announcements about the amount of money available for the German 2018 broadband plans, which will be all the money raised by the sales of radio spectrum to mobile phone companies. The current estimate to hit the 50 Mbps speed across the country is €20billion to €34 billion.
The size of the spend suggests that a full FTTH roll-out might be in order, but given that the 60% of high speed broadband coverage includes VDSL already, it is not a total certainty, as rolling out FTTH in areas with privately funded VDSL would break numerous EU State Aid rules.
If the UK Prime Minister had been quick on his feet he should have asked the German chancellor how they intended to overcome the physics of signal attenuation in copper with VDSL to guarantee everyone 50 Mbps. In theory with enough cabinets you can do a FTTC roll-out with a minimum speed guarantee, but this is edging more towards fibre to the drop point (FttDP) in terms of the number of nodes required.
If Germany is to use the billions to fund a nationwide FTTH network, then it will be with great interest to see how EU State Aid rules are met in the areas that already have VDSL deployed.
What we do know is that if the German project is going to rely on sales from planned spectrum sales, they had better hurry up, or perhaps the reason the roll-out is costing more than in the UK is that it will be done on a shorter time scale and with a greater level of subsidy to make planning decisions less of an issue.