sábado, 1 de febrero de 2020

The Spanish evolution of broadband

We will try to answer the many questions that arise when talking about broadband in Spain, in collaboration with John McAulay Solé. The internet appeared in the country for the first time in the early 1990s: the first Spanish commercial internet provider, Goya Servicios Telemáticos, was born in 1992, and only a year later the first Spanish web server started working in the Iberian country. 

Since then, internet has gone a very long way. In only a quarter of a century, it has gone from being an unknown futuristic concept to an element of every-day use. According to the Asociación de Usuarios de Internet, in 1996 there were only 320,000 internet users in Spain. Since then, that number has risen by more than 12,000% – up to 39.42 million users in 2018. Another interesting stat is the number of people who connect to the internet through their mobile phone. Last year, more than 35 million Spaniards used the internet through these devices, even though this is something which has only been possible since little over a decade ago.

According to the Poll of Equipment and Use of Information and Communication Technologies at Home made by the National Institute of Statistics, 86.4% of Spanish homes had access to the internet in 2018. This puts Spain at number 18 on the list of countries with most penetration – down seven positions from 2017, but up 12 percentage points from that year, when only 73% of Spanish homes had access to the internet. The world average is now of 53%, meaning Spain’s numbers are clearly inside the top tier. Another interesting figure is the number of Spaniards that have access to ultra-fast broadband (banda ancha ultrarrápida), which is internet that allows for data to be downloaded at speeds of over 100 Mbps. In 2018, 76% of Spanish homes had access to this type of service, up from 63% in 2016. Also last year, 97.2% of people enjoyed 4G access and 99% had 3.5G, which are both decent-speed services.
However, the quality of broadband is not the same across the whole of Spain. Some autonomous regions have far better access than others. Ultra-fast broadband (as mentioned before, that above 100 Mbps) reaches on average 76% of homes across Spain, but while almost all homes in cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Valencia can experience this connectivity, only 28.4% of homes in some rural areas have access to it, according to data from a report of Broadband coverage in Spain in 2017. A study by the government’s Department of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda also noted these vast differences in their 2017’s annual report. Their work showed that, while in more populated autonomous regions like the Comunidad de Madrid (96.14%), the Basque Country (93.58%) or Catalonia (83.16%) have vast percentages of ultra-fast broadband coverage – several percentage points above the 76% state average, – many other less populated autonomous regions like Extremadura (48.44%), Castilla la Mancha (50.92%) or Castilla y León (61.21%) have ultra-fast broadband coverage which is very far away from the top tiers. The gap between these richer and more populated autonomous regions and the poorer and less populated ones is obvious. Interestingly enough, only one autonomous region has a record of 100% ultra-fast broadband coverage, that being Melilla. However, just last year in Mariano Rajoy’s last months as President of Spain, the government established a plan to expand this ultra-fast broadband across the country. Rajoy planned to invest 525 million euros to give internet access to all villages in Spain by 2021, this way covering 95% of the country instead of the current 76% (the missing 5% is due to those people living in isolated houses).
Spain has three main broadband connection technologies, three mains of getting internet at one’s home: ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line), FTTH (fibre to the home) and HFC (hybrid fibre-coaxial). For most of the country’s internet history, the majority of Spanish homes have been run by ADSL. In fact, at the end of 2007, there were 6 million active lines using this broadband technology, while HFC accounted close to 1.8 million active lines and FTTH was still non-existent (it appeared in Spain in 2010). This gap between ADSL and HFC only grew during the last decade, reaching its zenith in late 2013, when ADSL covered almost 10 million active lines and HFC had only just crossed the 2 million line. It was at this point, however, that the tides started changing. Since then, ADSL hasn’t stopped losing power, while FTTH has exponentially grown in popularity across the country – HFC has pretty much remained stagnated for the last 5 years. This tendency of ADSL and FTTH was made clear in July 2017, when FTTH managed the historic feat of having more active lines than ADSL, a change that took place at a number of around 5.7 million lines. This was not something unexpected however: only during the month of July 2017, FTTH managed 100,000 new memberships while HFC lost the same number of people in the same time space. This trend carried on into 2018, when the number of FTTH active lines exceeded that of ADSL and HFC combined (7.41 million FTTH lines against the 6.97 million lines of ADSL and HFC). In total, between May 2017 and May 2018, FTTH gained 1.9 million lines, while ADSL lost 1.3 million of them. And this extraordinary expansion of FTTH has no signs of stopping soon.
Spain’s numbers in FTTH are genuinely incredible and not taken enough into consideration. Right now, the country has the largest two networks of fibre (FTTH) in Europe in number of houses with access to this service. In fact, as of 2017, Spain has more homes with FTTH than France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom combined – an amazing rise considering in 2008 Spain was ranked 14th in Europe in FTTH service extension. This amazing range of fibre hasn’t just happened out of the blue: Spain’s main telecommunications companies (Movistar, Orange, Vodafone and MásMóvil) have had a big role in it, as they aim to completely eliminate ADSL and make sure FTTH covers the whole country. At the moment, Movistar offers fibre to 18 million homes (40.77% of FTTH lines), and plans on reaching 25 million by 2020, while Orange isn’t far behind with 11 million homes (27.23% of FTTH lines), and has its eyes set on pushing the number up to 16 million by the same year. Vodafone currently stands at 10 million homes (22.78% of FTTH lines), but should reach 19 million in the fullness of time, while MásMóvil – who has been growing extremely quickly in the last several months – has only 1.3 million residences (4.96% of FTTH lines) but could reach 7.5 million in the years to come. Several other telecommunications companies share the FTTH service for the remaining 4.26% homes.
However, it’s not all good news for Spain’s internet service. Our country’s broadband is very expensive. In fact, it’s cheaper to get internet for the inhabitants of 21 out of 28 of Europe’s countries than it is for Spaniards. On a ranking from 0 points (less affordable) to 100 points (more affordable), Spain managed a score of 74, well below the European average of 87. Only seven countries (including Greece, Slovenia and Croatia) have a more expensive internet service than Spain.
Finally, to end the article, we will have a look at some statistics of internet use in Spain. A report by Statista taken in 2017 shows that Spanish people spent around 118 minutes on the internet every day, and numbers prove that most of them use their mobile phones to connect to the service. In fact, Telefonica claims that 93.3% of internet users log on to the internet through their phones, while only 57.8% of them use their computers to do so. According to a study by Ikea, 1 out of every 3 Spanish people look at their phone more than 100 times a day, while around a quarter of people aged under 25 check their device an average of 150 times a day. Another study, this one by Phone House, says that Spaniards can’t spend more than 60 minutes without checking their phones. This proves the importance that the mobile devices have on our everyday lives, and it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near slowing down for now.
We analyze broadband and HbbTV evolution (here, the case of Spain) in this blog, in Research Group about Digital Journalism and Marketing and Broadband and in Research Group on Innovative Monetization Systems of Digital Journalism, Marketing and Tourism (SIMPED), from CECABLE,  Escola Universitària Mediterrani of UdGUPF and Blanquerna-URL, in Twitter (@CECABLEresearch), Google+, in the group of LinkedIn, in the page of LinkedIn, in the group of Facebook, in Instagram (CECABLE), in Pinterest and in this blog. We will go in deep in the XXV Cable and Broadband Catalonia Congress (31 March-1 April 2020, Barcelona).

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