The corridors of the EU bubble are often the scene of debates on the objectives of the European Digital Decade and on the connectivity objectives of the Commission: from politics to investment decisions, some topics can even become heated.
This article sets them aside for a moment. The ETNO team spent a day with fiber workers who are currently paving the way to bring gigabit networks to your home, but also to offices, SMEs and corporate headquarters. While launching a new video series called #FibreStories, let the ETNO team explain what it takes to bring gigabit connectivity to everyone. It’s a lot of hard work, sweat and, of course, a lot of administrative work.
Early in the morning, one street at a time
October 2022, Brussels: it’s 5 in the morning and the alarm goes off. It’s still dark outside, cold and the weather forecast shows light rain for the whole day. For Mark, this is a normal working day at work on the streets of Brussels.
At 6:45, he and his teammates have beaten the rush hour and are already on site in the Rue de Parme, Brussels, to begin their preparations. This is their first day on a new road, just a few blocks from the construction site completed last week.
Today begins with a challenging part of the job: sidewalk trenches. Here you can see what it is for and what it means. The excavator starts work around 7am to make room for the trenches where the new fiber cable infrastructure will be laid. In the past, copper cables were sturdier and therefore easier to handle than today’s fiber cables, which are more delicate and also more vulnerable to damage. But the payoff is huge – your Internet speed will be at least 20 times faster.
After digging comes the wiring
The work of Mark and his team won’t be done overnight. After going through the trouble of digging the trench and laying the cables, the fiber needs to get to the facades and later inside houses and apartments.
Here you can see the crews at work, making sure the fiber gets to your door. Distribution boxes and small-scale wiring are added to the building facades and cables are spliced at the cutting edge with a special machine to be connected to the grid. This last stage is the shortest: it only takes about three hours to connect your apartment to the fiber network.
It can get tricky at times, as the final say on installation rests with the owners and property managers. This is the moment when new digital opportunities can finally enter your home and mark the completion of the project. It also marks the end of the fiber rollout path in a new residential area.
The full fiber journey at your home? Up to 18 months
Just like Mark’s, there are hundreds of teams doing this hard work in Belgium. Imagine zooming into the map of Europe – you’ll see many more streets, neighborhoods, cities and regions. This gives you an idea of the scale of work needed to achieve the ambitious goals of the European Digital Decade: high-speed connectivity for all Europeans.
The fiber story above is just the latest part of a long 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 generally have been made years in advance, based on uncertain projections of future demand and considerations of expected return on investment.
After the investment decision has been made, first step is to take an inventory of facades and buildings. Each area is different and subject to various local permits. In many cases, the necessary civil works must be combined with other projects in sectors such as energy, wastewater, transportation and other industrial sectors involving infrastructure. This would ensure that roads can only be drilled once, to allow for the intervention of several companies.
This is complex and sometimes means bureaucracy, which leads to delays: fiber experts have to wait for other civil works to become available, permits have to be carefully synchronized and investments made available in a timely manner, for example. It is only once all the investment decisions have been made and all the planning has taken place that European fiber workers can actually take to the streets and start delivering.
Achieving connectivity goals means reaching you
The story we live on the streets of Brussels happens every day at a European level: all European operators are investing to achieve the goal of 150 billion euroswhich is the amount needed to bring fiber to the homes of more than 70 percent of the Europeans. If you are one of them, the above story might sound familiar. Otherwise, a new wave of investment efforts by telecom operators and the hard work of fiber teams will bring fiber within reach in the coming years.
To achieve the objectives of the EU Digital Decade it is necessary to replicate the history of fiber in all European districts. Mark’s team may have added a few hundred Europeans to those boosted by FTTH. Bringing it to the homes of 450 million Europeans means there is still a lot of work to be done – that is the hard work behind the exciting goals of the Digital Decade in Europe.