Corridors in the EU bubble often witness debates on the European Digital Decade targets and on the Commission’s connectivity goals: from politics to investment decisions, some arguments can even get heated.
This article puts them to one side for a moment. The ETNO team spent one 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 it launches a new video series called #FibreStories, let the ETNO team explain what it takes to bring gigabit connectivity to all. It is a lot of hard work, sweat and, of course, quite some administrative burden.
Early mornings, one street at a time
October 2022, Brussels: It’s 5am and the alarm rings. Outside still dark, cold and the weather forecast shows mild rain throughout the day. For Mark, this is a regular working day at his job in the streets of Brussels.
At 6:45am, he and his teammates have beaten the rush hour and are already on site in Rue de Parme, Brussels, to start the preparations. This is their first day on a new street, just a few blocks away from last week’s completed worksite.
Today kicks off with a challenging part of the job: trenching the sidewalks. Here you can watch what it takes and what it means. The excavator starts working around 7am to make room for the trenches in which new fiber cable infrastructure will be laid. Back in the day, the copper cables were sturdier and hence easier to handle than today’s fiber cables, which are more delicate and also more vulnerable to damage. But the payoff is huge: internet speeds will be at least 20 times faster.
After the digging, comes the wiring
The work of Mark and his team will not be done in one day. After having gone through the pain of digging the trench and laying the cables, fiber needs to get on the facades and subsequently inside houses and apartments.
Here you can see the teams at work, while making sure that fiber gets to your household. Small-scale distribution boxes and cabling are added to the building facades, and the cables are spliced state-of-the-art with a special machine to be connected to the network. This last leg is the shortest one: it takes only around three hours to connect your apartment to the fiber network.
It can get complicated at times, as the final word on the installation belongs to landlords and property managers. This is when new digital opportunities can finally enter your house and mark the completion of the project. It also marks the end of the fiber rollout journey in a new residential area.
The full fiber journey to your home? Up to 18 months
Just like Mark’s, there are hundreds of teams doing this hard job in Belgium. Imagine zooming out to the map of Europe: you will see many more streets, districts, cities and regions. This gives you an idea of the scale of the work required to achieve Europe’s Digital Decade target ambitions: high-speed connectivity for all Europeans.
The fiber story above is only the last part of a lengthy process. On average, it can take up to 18 months to fully complete a fiber rollout project in a new perimeter. The typical investment decision behind choosing a specific area would have typically been taken years before, based on uncertain projections on future demand as well as considerations on the expected return-on-investment.
After that investment decision is taken, step one is to do the inventory of facades and buildings. Every area is different and subject to various local permits. In many cases, the civil works required must be coupled with other projects in sectors like energy, wastewater, transportation and other industrial sectors involving infrastructure. This would ensure that the streets can be drilled only once, to allow for different companies to intervene.
This is complex and sometimes it means red tape, leading to delays: fiber experts need to wait for other civil works to become available, permits need to be carefully synchronized and investments made available timely, for example. It is only once all the investment decisions are taken and all the planning has happened, that Europe’s fiber workers can actually take to the streets and start delivering.
Reaching the connectivity targets means reaching you
The story we experience in the streets of Brussels happens every day at the European level: all European operators are investing to hit the target of €150 billion, which is the sum required to bring fiber to the homes of more than 70 percent of Europeans. If you are among them, the story above might sound familiar. Otherwise, a new wave of investment efforts by telecommunications operators and hard work by fiber teams will bring fiber to your doorstep in the coming years.
Reaching the EU’s Digital Decade targets needs to replicate the story of fiber in all districts of Europe. Mark’s team might have added a few hundred Europeans to those empowered by FTTH. Getting it to the premises of 450 million Europeans means much more work is awaiting ahead: that is the hard work behind Europe’s exciting Digital Decade targets.