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COMPUTERWORLD | Articles | Market Analysis
15 Apr

Bulgaria is a leader in superfast broadband coverage


One of European Union’s most ambitious targets is to make sure that all its citizens can get access to superfast broadband at home, if they choose, by 2020. A new study by broadband specialists Point Topic shows Bulgaria is now over 71% towards achieving that aim.

In fact, Bulgaria has dramatically overcome the limitations of the telecom networks it inherited from the communist era by leaping ahead to superfast broadband that is able to deliver 30 Mbps or more to homes and businesses. As a result, it is now sixth among all EU countries in superfast broadband coverage.

The study showing how well Bulgaria is doing has been produced for DG Connect, the department of the European Commission which is responsible for its “Digital Agenda” strategy. The purpose of the Digital Agenda is to harness the Internet and other digital technologies to drive sustainable economic growth. Neelie Kroes, the Commission vice-president responsible for the Dgigtal Agenda, wants to see 7 bln euro earmarked for EU investments in broadband to reach Digital Agenda targets, which in turn is meant to draw in private funds of many times that amount.

“This study gives us the best view so far of where action is needed on broadband coverage,” says Neelie Kroes. “It will help to guide decisions on where EU and private money can be invested to provide the best long-term return for taxpayers and investors, such as pension funds.”

Called Broadband Coverage in Europe in 2011, the new study shows that 92% of the homes in Bulgaria can now get basic broadband, meaning services offering at least 144 Кbps, if they want to subscribe. Over 71% can already get superfast broadband, also known as NGA (Next Generation Access). Looking at the 29 study countries as a whole (all 27 EU members plus Norway and Iceland), 96% can already offer basic broadband and over 50% are half way to the “digital heaven” target for 2020 – being superfast.

Basic broadband is fairly widespread now, only three EU countries have less than 90% coverage. But there are huge variations in superfast availability both internationally and within countries. As far as Bulgaria is concerned, the map shows that a large part of the country has over 65% superfast coverage, including all the big cities and the seaside resorts, and as high as 90% in Sofia, the capital. At the other extreme, the more rural areas have under 35% availability and the province of Vidin in the north-west lacks any superfast presence.

The study also shows how competing technologies are sharing out the superfast broadband market as illustrated on the chart. In Bulgaria, Docsis 3 broadband over the cable TV network is the most important superfast technology with 56% coverage. This reflects the situation across Europe as a whole where Docsis 3 also leads on 37%. FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises, meaning to apartment blocks or individual homes) is also well developed in Bulgaria with 44% coverage, well ahead of the European average of 12%. On the other hand VDSL, which provides superfast speeds over the telephone network, shows no presence in Bulgaria, although it averages 21% for Europe as a whole.

“When we add all these technologies together we have to take account of the overlap,” explains Tim Johnson, who led the project as Point Topic’s Chief Analyst. “This is how we get to superfast coverage of 71% in Bulgaria.” The problem is that the superfast operators compete to serve the richer and more densely populated areas in each country, leaving others underserved. “Hopefully, this project will give policy-makers some of the information they need to start addressing that problem,” says Johnson.

As for the local phone services, the 2011 annual report of the national telecom regulator (CRC) shows that the overall revenue from such services in the country amounted to 2.062 bln Bulgarian levs (1.054 bln euro), or 11.2% less than in 2010. This sum was generated from almost 2.3 mln subscribers in 22 fixed telephone service operators. Over 660,000 of those subscribers used phones within bundle packages.

The total revenue from fixed telephony reached some 318 mln Bulgarian levs (162.6 mln euro) in 2011, according to the CRC.

The sum of all mobile subscribers in the country by the end of 2011 was 10.475 mln, of which almost 1.13 mln used mobile as part of bundled services.

The combined 2011 voice services revenue of all three mobile operators in Bulgaria was 1.734 bln Bulgarian levs (886.7 mln euro), or more than 84.1% of all telephony revenues.

The total number of registered ISPs in Bulgaria by the end of 2011 was 917, of which 646 were actually providing services. They offered Internet as a standalone service or bundled with other services, like digital TV and voice.

"In 2011, the revenue from Internet access services remained unchanged at 316 mln Bulgarian levs (161.5 mln euro), compared to 317 mln Bulgarian levs (162.1 mln euro) in 2010. Meanwhile, revenues from packages including web access services reached 219 mln Bulgarian levs (112 mln euro), or 117% up from 2010," said the CRC.

By the end of 2011, the number of fixed Internet access subscribers (including service pack) reached 1,289,289, an increase of 13.5% versus December 2010.

The number of active subscribers using mobile Internet data cards or modems reached 315,957 by the end of 2011, or 19% more than a year before.

The level of fixed internet penetration among households reached 37.6% in December 2011 compared to 33% at the end of 2010, while the number of settlements offering fixed Internet increased by 395 reaching 2,747.

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