The corridors of the EU bubble often witness debates about the objectives of the European Digital Decade and the connecting objectives of the Commission: from politics to investment decisions, some debates can even be heated.
This article puts them on one side for a while. The ETNO team spent one day with fiber operators who are currently paving the way to bring gigabit networks to your home and offices, SMEs and corporate headquarters. As it launches a new video series called #FibreStories, let the ETNO team explain what it takes to bring gigabit connectivity to all. It’s a lot of hard work, sweat and, of course, some administrative burden.
Early in the morning, one road at a time
October 2022, Brussels: It’s 5 am and the alarm goes off. It’s still dark outside, cold and the weather is showing light rain all day. For Mark, this is a typical day at work on the streets of Brussels.
At 6:45 in the morning, he and his colleagues are past twelve and are already at the Rue de Parme, Brussels, to start preparations. This is their first day on the new road, just a few blocks from the work site that was completed last week.
Today starts with the most challenging part of the job: cutting sidewalks. Here you can see what it takes and what it means. The excavator starts working at 7 am to clear the trenches where the new cable infrastructure will be laid. Back in the day, copper cables were stronger and therefore easier to handle than today’s fiber cables, which are more fragile and prone to damage. But the payoff is huge: the Internet speed will be at least 20 times faster.
After digging, comes the wiring
The work of Mark and his team cannot be done in one day. After going through the pain of digging a trench and laying cables, the fiber needs to go through the facades and into the houses and apartments.
Here you can see the teams at work, while making sure that the fiber reaches your house. Small distribution boxes and cabling are added to building facades, and cables are separated with state-of-the-art by a special device to be connected to the network. This last leg is the shortest: it takes only three hours to connect your house to the fiber network.
It can be difficult at times, as the final say in the installation belongs to the landlords and property managers. This is where new digital opportunities can finally enter your home and mark the completion of a project. It also marks the end of the fiber rollout journey to the new residential area.
A full fiber trip to your home? Up to 18 months
Like Mark, there are hundreds of groups doing this difficult work in Belgium. Imagine zooming in on the map of Europe: you will see many roads, regions, cities and regions. This gives you an idea of the scale of work needed to achieve the target ambitions of Europe’s Digital Decade: high-speed communication for all Europeans.
The fiber issue above is the last part of a long process. On average, it can take 18 months to fully complete a fiber rollout project to a new location. A typical investment decision after selecting a property would normally have been made years ago, based on uncertain assumptions about future demand and expected returns.
After that investment decision has been made, the first step is to calculate the facades and buildings. Every location is different and subject to different local permits. In many cases, the required public works must be integrated with other projects in sectors such as energy, waste water, transport and other industrial sectors involving infrastructure. This will ensure that roads can only be drilled once, to allow different companies to intervene.
This is complicated and sometimes means red tape, which leads to delays: fiber specialists need to wait for other public works to be available, permits need to be carefully coordinated and investments made available on time, for example. Only then, when all the investment decisions have been made and all the planning has taken place, can European workers take to the streets and start delivering.
Targeted communication means reaching out to you
The story we face in the streets of Brussels is happening every day at the European level: all European operators are investing to reach the goal of € 150 billion, which is the amount needed to bring fiber to the homes of more than 70 percent of Europeans. If you are one of them, the story above may sound familiar. If not, a new wave of investment efforts by telecommunications operators and the hard work of fiber groups will bring fiber to your door in the coming years.
Achieving the target of the EU’s Digital Decade requires replicating the fiber story in all European regions. Mark’s team may have added a few hundred Europeans to those empowered by FTTH. Getting it to the doorsteps of Europe’s 450 million people means a lot of work ahead: that’s the hard work behind Europe’s exciting Digital Decade goals.