The corridors in the EU bubble often see discussions about the aims of the European Digital Contract and the Commission’s communication goals: from politics to investment decisions, some arguments can even flare up.
This article puts them to one side for a moment. The ETNO team spent a day with the fiber workers who are currently digging the streets to bring gigabit networks to your home as well as to offices, SMEs and corporate headquarters. As they launch a new video series called #FibreStories, let the ETNO team explain what it takes to bring gigabit connectivity to everyone. It’s a lot of hard work, sweat and of course some administrative burden.
Early morning, 1st at a time
October 2022, Brussels: It’s 5 in the morning and the alarm is sounding. Outside it’s still dark and cold and the weather forecast shows moderate rain all day. For Mark, this is a regular workday at his job on the streets of Brussels.
At 6:45 a.m. he and his teammates beat the rush hour and are already on the Rue de Parme site, Brussels, to begin preparations. This is their first day on New Street, just a few blocks from the job site completed last week.
Today begins the hard part of the job: digging trenches. Here you can see what it takes and what it means. The rig starts work around 7 am to make way for trenches in which new fiber cable infrastructure will be laid. In the past, copper cables were sturdier and therefore easier to handle than today’s fiber cables, which are more delicate and also more prone to damage. But the payoff is huge: Internet speeds will be at least 20 times faster.
After drilling comes the wires
Mark and his team’s work will not be done in one day. Having gone through the pains of digging the trench and laying the cables, the fibers have to reach the facades and then inside the houses and apartments.
Here you can see the difference in action, making sure that the fiber reaches your household. Small-sized distribution boxes and cables are added to the facades of the building, and the cables are tied with state-of-the-art technology with a special machine that is connected to the network. This last leg is the shortest: it takes just about three hours to connect your apartment to the fiber network.
It can get complicated at times, because the final word on installation rests with landlords and property managers. This is when 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 in a new residential area.
A full fiber trip to your home? Up to 18 months
Just like Team Mark, there are hundreds of teams doing this hard work in Belgium. Imagine zooming out on a map of Europe: you will see many streets, neighborhoods, cities and districts. This gives you an idea of the amount of work required to achieve the targeted ambitions of the Digital Decade for Europe: high-speed connectivity for all Europeans.
The fiber story above is only the last part of a long process. On average, it can take up to 18 months to complete a complete fiber deployment project in a new setting. The typical investment decision behind choosing a particular area is usually made years in advance, based on uncertain expectations about future demand as well as considerations regarding expected return on investment.
After making this investment decision, the first step is to do an inventory of the facades and buildings. Each region is different and subject to different local permits. In many cases, the required civil works must be accompanied by other projects in sectors such as energy, waste water, transportation and other industrial sectors involving infrastructure. This will ensure that streets can only be dug up once, to allow different companies to step in.
This is complex and sometimes means red tape, leading to delays: fiber experts need to wait for other civil works to become available, and permits need to be carefully synchronized and investments made available in a timely manner, for example. Once all the investment decisions have been made and all the planning done, fiber operators in Europe can take to the streets and start delivering.
Reaching communication goals means reaching you
The story we live on the streets of Brussels takes place every day at the European level: all European operators are investing to meet the target of 150 billion euros, the amount needed to bring fiber to the homes of more than 70 percent of Europeans. If you are among them, the above story may sound familiar. Otherwise, a new wave of investment efforts by telecom operators and hard work by fiber teams will bring fiber to your doorstep in the coming years.
Reaching the goals of the EU Digital Decade will need to repeat the fiber story across all regions of Europe. Mark’s team may have added a few hundred Europeans to those enabled by FTTH. Reaching the on-premises of 450 million Europeans means more work lies ahead: this is the hard work behind Europe’s exciting Digital Decade goals.