Europe and fibre

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The European Commission wishes to prepare Europe for a digital future in the coming years. In that context, she has set out multiple goals, among which there is connectivity. Fibre plays an important part in this. In order to be able to achieve these goals, different legislative and other initiatives have been launched, which are briefly discussed on this page.

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European goals for connectivity

The European Commission has set goals for connectivity in Europe. According to the European Gigabit Society ambitions, the following has to be achieved more in particular by 2025:

  • Gigabit connectivity (speeds of at least 1 Gbps or 1000 Mbps) for all of the main socio-economic drivers such as schools, research facilities, hospitals, etc.
  • uninterrupted 5G coverage for all urban areas and major terrestrial transport paths, and
  • access to connectivity offering at least 100 Mbps for all European households.

On 9 March 2021 the European Commission presented “The Digital Compass”. By 2030:

  • all European households should be covered by a Gigabit network;
  • all populated areas should be covered by 5G.

Fibre roll-out plays an important part in gigabit (and 5G) connectivity access.

The European Electronic Communications Code

An important European guideline is the European Electronic Communications Code, which was promulgated at the end of 2018 and has to be transposed by all European Member States into their own legislation. Belgium should complete its transposal by the end of 2021. The European Code encourages the roll-out of very high capacity networks (VHCN) through different provisions.

What is a very high capacity network (VHCN)?

The European Code (Article 2, § 2) defines a very high capacity network (VHCN) as an electronic communications network which:

  • either consists wholly of optical fibre elements at least up to the distribution point,
  • or is capable of delivering, under usual peak-time conditions, similar network performance (for instance in terms of bandwidth, latency, etc.)

Fibre to the distribution point is explained further (recital 13) as:

  • In the case of fixed-line connection, this is an optical fibre installation up to a multi-dwelling building, considered to be the serving location.
  • In the case of wireless connection, this corresponds to an optical fibre installation up to the base station (transmitting antenna), considered to be the serving location.

scheme VHCN

In other words, as regards the fixed networks, all networks consisting of fibre elements (at least) up to the apartment building are VHCNs. The other networks that are based on different technologies for the larger part, are VHCN provided they meet a list of criteria.

BEREC (the European assembly of telecom regulators) has set out these criteria in its guidelines BEREC Guidelines on Very High Capacity Networks. Among the criteria there are:

  • Downlink data rate ≥ 1000 Mbps,
  • Uplink data rate ≥ 200 Mbps,
  • IP packet loss ratio ≤ 0.005%...

A cable or coax network may, depending on the protocol used, for instance meet these criteria as well.

The BEREC guidelines also define a series of criteria for mobile networks as an alternative to mobile networks using antennas connected through fibre. If a mobile network meets the (stricter) criteria for a “fixed VHCN” (for instance via 5G) the Fixed Wireless Access may also fall within the category of a “fixed VHCN”.

Measures in the European Code to promote VHCN roll-out

For networks meeting this definition the European Code suggests a number of concrete measures that should promote their roll-out.

The typical regulatory model in which a country’s telecom regulator determines whether there is a dominant operator for a certain market and consequently imposes a number of obligations (such as granting other operators access to his network), is made more flexible in the European Code to encourage VHCN roll-out.

Other measures to lower the roll-out costs are for instance:

  • Allowing a more symmetrical regulation with measures applicable to all operators and not just to those who are dominant on the market. This is especially true for passive networks allowing different operators to share a network more easily.
  • A possibility to reduce regulation in the case of network sharing, for certain forms of co-investment or in the case of wholesale only operators (operators only selling access to their network on the wholesale market, to other operators that is, and who are not active on the retail market).

Other European initiatives related to the roll-out of telecom networks

There are different other European instruments or initiatives aiming to accelerate high-speed connectivity roll-out (among which there is fibre). Below a brief overview is given of the main instruments and initiatives. More information and other initiatives can be found on the website of the European Commission:

  • The main objective of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive (BCRD) or the “Directive of 15 May 2014 on measures to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communications networks” is to allow the sharing of infrastructure in which new networks can be rolled-out, such as the sharing of ducts among telecom operators and other utility operators. The BCRD defines a number of provisions in this context, that have also been transposed in the Belgian legislation. The European Commission is currently revising this. More information on the content of the BCRD can be found on the page describing the BCRD.
  • The Connectivity Toolbox is the result of the Connectivity Toolbox Recommendation of 18 September 2020. This toolbox includes a list of best practices that have been exchanged among the European Member States to accelerate the roll-out of VHCN and 5G. Each Member State has also drafted an implementation plan for this toolbox. More information can be found on this page of the European Commission.
  • In addition, there are European funds such as Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) that wishes to encourage the roll-out and modernisation of broadband networks, as well as CEF-2 that will support investments in connectivity infrastructure for the common interest (such as the main socio-economic drivers mentioned in the Gigabit Society goals).