Report: LTE now in all EU countries, but more work needed on rural coverage

LTE or 4G services are now offered in all countries within the European Union, after Cyprus became the last country to commercially launch services in 2015.

According to a report published by the European Commission (EC) and conducted by IHS and Valdani, Vicari & Associati, LTE networks covered 86 per cent of households in the EU by the end of June 2015. This was seven percentage points higher than at the end of 2014.

Alzbeta Fellenbaum, senior analyst at IHS Technology, noted that LTE was once again the fastest growing technology last year. Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark were the leaders in terms of LTE coverage in the first half of 2015, with 99 per cent of households covered by LTE networks.

However, rural coverage remains an ongoing concern and is still at a relatively low level. In rural areas, LTE coverage increased by 9 percentage points and reached 36 per cent of rural households by mid-2015.

"The continued LTE deployment in rural areas is particularly important, since it can aid rural broadband coverage in regions where fixed network deployment is problematic," Fellenbaum said.

Indeed, rural fixed coverage in the EU still lags behind national fixed coverage, with rural fixed broadband coverage 7 percentage points lower than total fixed broadband coverage by mid-2015 (91 per cent compared to 97 per cent). The good news is that the gap has been narrowing since 2012 when the difference was 12 percentage points.

However, the picture is not so positive for next-generation access in rural areas. IHS pointed out that rural next-generation access coverage has been a much more problematic situation, as the gap between rural and national coverage "reached a whopping 43 percentage points in 2012 and has remained static since then."

The findings of the report are included in the Digital Scoreboard published by the EC and are also a component of the EU Digital Economy and Society Index. The 2016 edition of the report was published last week, and indicated that EU countries have made progress since last year on aspects such as connectivity, digital skills and public services.

Of some concern is that the pace of development is slowing down, as highlighted by Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for the digital economy and society, who warned that there is "no room for complacency."

"The EU makes progress, but too slowly," Oettinger said. "Action is needed if we want to catch up with Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. Based on [the] Index, we will come forward in May with concrete recommendations for EU member states to improve their national performances. With this, combined with our work to create a Digital Single Market, I am sure that the EU as a whole and its member states will do much better in the coming years".

For more:
- see this EC release
- see the Digital Scorecard 2016

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