Germany’s leading fibre association, the German Broadband Association (BREKO), discussed the decisive role of fibre networks for a modern and sustainable digital economy and as key pillar of the European Gigabit society with high-ranking participants from European and national politics, network providers and the electronic industries. The event, moderated by media platform Euractiv’s editor covering policy in digital affairs, Samuel Stolton, was organized in cooperation with the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) in Belgium and was attended by numerous journalists covering (EU-) politics and the ICT industry. It took place yesterday evening at the Press Club Brussels Europe – right in the heart of Brussel’s European district – and achieved a great resonance.
“Europe on its way towards a Gigabit society? Not without fibre!” – this was not only the title of BREKO’s event, but it remains one of the key statements of Germany’s leading fibre association. Norbert Westfal, BREKO’s president and CEO of EWE TEL, one of Germany’s biggest regional network providers, underlined that a Europe-wide rollout of fibre networks at least to all buildings (Fibre to the building – FTTB or Fibre to the home – FTTH) is essential for the flourishing development of the digital economy and society.
Fibre networks enable both technological innovations and intelligent future solutions and services e.g. in the fields of health, energy and mobility. Moreover, fibre networks will be an essential element across Europe for a successful deployment of the future mobile generation 5G. Without fibre connections to all mobile sites, ultrahigh bandwidths and ultralow reaction times (“latency times”) cannot be achieved.
“Europe’s previous broadband targets (100 MBit/s for all Europeans by 2025) will be outdated by reality soon”, Norbert Westfal stated. “That’s the reason we have to implement a clear infrastructure target: Europe needs future-proof fibre in every building.” When implementing the European Electronic Communications Code into national law, there is “no alternative to establishing an ambitious full-fibre-infrastructure-goal in all 28 member states”, Westfal emphasized.
Dieter Wegener, Chair “Industrie 4.0” – Germany’s Electrical Industry (ZVEI) and Vice-President at Siemens, backed Westfal’s position emphatically. “Without any reasonable doubt, the upcoming digital industry will need highly reliable, ultrafast nearly-real-time broadband connections. These parameters can only be achieved by full fibre networks that will furthermore enable us to establish machine-to-machine-(M2M)-solutions and the connection of whole industry sites with 5G.”
Anthony Whelan, European Commission’s director for Electronic Communications Networks and Services, explained what the regulators can do to encourage roll-out of very high capacity (VHC) networks. He stressed that the objective of the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) that entered into force at the end of 2018 is to increase investments in and take-up of very high capacity networks and, at the same time, to preserve competition in the market.
“The new policy objectives for VHC networks have been developed on the basis of a fibre benchmark. The migration to FTTB/FTTH is a very significant challenge, especially for a country like Germany where such networks are still comparatively rare”, Whelan illustrated the necessary path. “Not to forget, this migration is not just important for fixed-line connections, but for all aspects of connectivity, including to realise the full potential of the wireless component of Europe’s future 5G networks.”
The EECC has to be transferred into the national law of all 28 EU member states by December 2020. BREKO pleads for anchoring clear fibre-goals defining FTTB as minimum standard for VHC networks all over Europe.
Kristina Sinemus, Minister of the newly founded Ministry of Digital Strategy and Development in the State of Hessen (Germany), is aware of Germany’s lack of high capacity fibre networks – although the availability of fibre connections has recently grown considerably, primarily driven by the competitors to incumbent Deutsche Telekom that are predominantly organized in BREKO.
“Mobile access to data is becoming ever more important and will transform the way we see communication and the requirements of the infrastructures associated with it. 5G in particular will give this development another significant boost”, Sinemus underlined and verbalized her ambitions: “We in Hessen have understood this and plan to accelerate the 5G rollout. That is why the State Government of Hessen named preparation and support of the 5G rollout as a key goal in its gigabit strategy for Hessen in 2018. We want to be pioneers in this field in Germany, just as we were in improving LTE coverage.”
European-Broadcasting-Union’s director of technology and innovation, Antonio Arcidiacono, underlined the importance of implementing a 5G broadcasting profile and deploy it using existing broadcast towers and satellite networks; he also outlined fibre as the essential basic infrastructure connecting 5G contribution islands.
Arcidiacono underlined the importance of 5G for the European media: “5G can support the media industry and revolutionize everyday business for journalists in both news contribution, e.g. a stadium with 5G-realtime-cameras connected to fibre networks, and in mobile distribution, providing high-quality content delivered to millions of users at the same time, using broadcast towers.”
In the end, all panelists of BREKO’s Brussel’s event agreed: On its way towards Europe’s future Gigabit society, there’s no alternative to fibre as the essential digital infrastructure. The envisaged, ambitious goals for the next mobile generation 5G can only be achieved by Europe-wide fibre networks. 5G is complimentary to fixed fibre networks (it is “mobile fibre”) – so it is obvious to make use of synergies when rolling out Europe’s future fixed and mobile networks.
The recommendation to the next EU Commission and Parliament is thus clear and simple: Europe needs to pave the way with fibre across the continent to become a 5G world leader.