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Global broadband divide is closing but speed inequalities widen

Research finds need for greater investment in advanced, full-fibre broadband networks is essential to closing a digital divide among global broadband users

Omdia’s latest Global fiber development index is predicting that by 2026, the percentage of the global population that is connected to the internet will increase from 58% to 70%, but even with access increasing, there are fears that there will be growing disparities in the types of access that certain users can gain.

Omdia created the Global fiber development index in 2020, to monitor investments in fibre across all parts of the network.

It covers 81 territories and is updated annually. Beyond coverage and household penetration, the benchmark tracks and ranks all elements of fibre network investment, specifically fibre access, mobile fibre backhaul, core fibre backhaul and overall fibre quality of service, which is currently measured by overall average downlink and uplink speed.

The most recent study found that of the 70% connected to the internet, 30% of the population will have access via a mobile device and 40% will have a home fixed broadband connection. The 2021 full ranking results showed Singapore continues to lead the index, followed by South Korea, United Arab Emirates, China and Qatar.

The first European countries in the ranking were Spain and Sweden in seventh and eighth position. They are closely followed by Luxembourg and Romania. The US heads the Americas region and is positioned at 18th in the world overall.

Yet the report also highlighted the fact that as the connectivity digital divide is closing, speed and service inequalities are widening. Omdia cited Latin America as providing a good example, projecting 44% of the population will have access to fixed broadband services by 2026 but only 5.3% will be on a connection delivering 500Mbps or more, and only 1% will have speeds of more than 1Gbps.

In contrast, in North America the equivalent factors are 77%, 26% and 11% respectively, and in Oceania, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia they are 66%, 40% and 10%. At the other end of the spectrum, only 9% of the African population will have access to fixed broadband, with 84% of those users limited to speeds of less than 30Mbps.

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Omdia noted that as a broadband access technology, optical fibre provides an optimised, highly sustainable and future-proof quality service. It stressed that greater investment in advanced, full-fibre broadband networks is essential to closing this digital divide.

“Beyond economic benefits, an all-fibre network has significant environmental benefits over both xDSL and hybrid fibre coaxial networks,” said the analyst’s research director, Michael Philpot.

“In 2019, Telefónica stated that its FTTH network was 85% more energy efficient than its old copper infrastructure,” he said. “The operator said its FTTH initiative had saved 208GWh over three years, representing a reduction of 56,500 tons of CO2 emissions. As countries move to a greener future, fibre-optic-based communications must be part of that plan.”

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