Spain Dominates in Europe When It Comes to Fiber Optic Coverage
Thu, April 22, 2021

Spain Dominates in Europe When It Comes to Fiber Optic Coverage


The Digital Society in Spain 2019 report shows the trends and indications of the evolution of the digital transformation of Spain.  / Photo by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock


Spain ranks first in Europe when it comes to fiber optic coverage and customers, according to multinational communications company Fundación Telefónica’s report.


Fiber optic coverage in Spain

The Digital Society in Spain 2019 report shows the trends and indications of the evolution of the digital transformation of Spain. It highlights that three out of four homes in Spain have fiber optic coverage or that nine out of ten Spaniards have internet access. Although the country acknowledges that it still has a long way to go, such as in terms of human capital with digital skills and digitization of small and medium-sized enterprises, it can take pride in dominating the rest of Europe in fiber optic coverage and customers.

Fiber optic internet transfers data fully or partially through fiber optic cables. “Fiber” refers to the thin glass of wires inside a lager protective cable while “optic” refers to the type of data that is transferred. Fiber optics wins on speed compared to DSL internet connection delivered via telephone lines. Fiber optic cables also transfer more data faster and over long distances without losing the signal.

Globally, the service that is growing the most is high-speed mobile internet access. There are nearly 5.3 billion inhabitants that avail if the said service worldwide. The number of mobile broadband users has likewise grown with an average annual rate of 22% in the last five years compared to 4.1% for mobile telephony and 9.2% growth for fixed broadband users.


Fiber optic internet transfers data fully or partially through fiber optic cables. / Photo by Nakun via Shutterstock


Internet penetration, by region

By region, America achieved the highest penetration of mobile internet with 97.1 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. Second in rank is Europe (93.6 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants). Between 2013 and 2018, the Asia-Pacific region had the highest annual average rate of 30.8%. However, in terms of fixed broadband penetration, the highest rate occurs in Europe with 31.3 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.

For most people in Spain, the internet is an informational tool. The most popular activity of Spanish people using the internet is finding information about goods and services with a rate of 61%. Spanish citizens are likewise keen on using technology to download and read newspapers (53%) and avail of accommodation and travel services (40%). Similar to Poland and Bulgaria, only 9% of Spanish citizens are selling their services and goods online.

In terms of next-generation networks, Telefónica highlighted that 5G technology infrastructures in the country will be important in the digital ecosystem as there are currently over 7,000 million connected devices in Spain. Such a figure is even forecast to exceed 21,500 million by 2025.


FFTH coverage covers 80% of homes in Spain

Spain’s leadership in fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) coverage has been attributed to the subsidy programs of the government, according to telecommunications news provider Total Telecom. Spain’s Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation said that FTTH coverage has already hit 80% of homes in the country as of June 2019. Compared to the 2018 statistics, the 2019 figure represents a 3% increase in FTTH coverage.

About 94% of the Spanish population also have access to a broadband speed of at least 30Mbps, an increase of 9% compared to the 2018 figures.

Earlier this year, the government announced that it is planning to expand the areas that are eligible for broadband subsidies and wants to increase fiber availability for 1.5 million more people before 2020 ends, although this may be a challenge to achieve due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has already been over a month since Spain imposed a strict lockdown.

The New Generation Broadband Extension Plan introduced by the government is expected to reach 91.24% of the country’s population by 2021, including more than three quarters from the rural population.



Urban-rural broadband adoption gap

Oklahoma State University’s Associate Professor and Extension Economist Brian Whitacre, who was not part of Telefónica’s report, opined that the “digital divide” in terms of broadband access between urban and rural areas has been well-documented. Broadband adoption will help improve the economy of rural areas, such as increasing their income, creating jobs, and lowering the unemployment rates, he added. This was explained in detail by the World Bank. It wrote that broadband adoption creates jobs directly through the construction of broadband networks related to installation and civil works. It also creates jobs indirectly through incremental employment generated by businesses selling goods and services involved in broadband network construction.

In the US, for instance, there were 1.34 million jobs in the telecom and internet services sector in 2017, and this grew to 1.36 million in 2018, according to a survey conducted by Statista between 2009 and 2018.


Spain vs. other countries in Europe

In a short period, Spain’s telecom operators have laid out fiber optic cables that reached 31 million premises, a deployment that surpassed the UK, Germany, and France combined. Among the OECD countries, only Japan and Korea have more.

Back in 2008, Spain was making slow progress compared to other European countries in terms of FTTH technology. However, in 2014, it became number one in Europe. Telefónica was among the companies that invested billions for state-of-the-art fiber networks during the financial crisis. The company pioneered the “quad-play” in Europe. In telecommunications, quad-play is a marketing term that combines the triple play service of telephone with wireless service provisions, television, and broadband internet access. This strategic bet paid off for Telefónica as it encouraged existing customers and attracted new ones to purchase more services.



Other competitors in the industry soon followed Telefónica. Orange and Vodafone, for example, invested in fiber networks too while Jazztel agreed to roll out fiber networks with Telefónica. By 2017, Telefónica already passed about 18.6 million premises with fiber optic in Spain, ITU News ​​Magazine shared.

Operators in the country also had access to the high-quality civil infrastructure needed to connect fiber to homes, including poles, ducts, and manholes.  Landlords were moreover obligated to provide access to the in-building fiber infrastructure and this paved the way for Spain’s super-fast broadband.

Market momentum may prove that 2020 is an exciting year for FTTH companies in Spain. The pandemic has even highlighted the need for faster internet speeds as stay-at-home orders kept people connected to family, work, and school via the internet.