Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Infrastructure and Technology

Illustration of a fine network
Passive infrastructure often presents the bottleneck for broadband development and is also the most suited component for intervention by a public administration or public authority. It is therefore crucial to distinguish the concepts of infrastructure, technology, and network design, to give an overview of the different infrastructure types and to provide a guide on how to plan for an infrastructure deployment.
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Wired Broadband Technologies

A large range of communication technologies with different technical capacities are capable of providing high-speed internet to households. Wired technologies include copper cable (xDSL), coaxial cable (e.g. HFC) and modern optical fibre cable (Fttx).

  • Copper wires

    Copper wires are defined as “legacy telephone unshielded copper twisted pair”, providing broadband connections by using xDSL-technologies, such as ADSL/ADSL2+ (max. 24/1 down-/upstream rate within max. 5 km efficiency range) or VDSL/VDSL2 (with vectoring max. 100/40 down-/upstream rate within max. 1 km efficiency range).

    • Pros:They require relatively low investment needed for passive infrastructure (a copper telephone line is already present in most households) and are least disruptive for the end users
    • Cons:The high (download) speeds depend on the length of copper line, the number of users, the type of applications, the amount of data traffic and the technology used. The xDSL technology is heavily asymmetrical: upload speeds are generally much lower than download speeds; this may hamper new services (e.g. cloud computing, videoconferencing, teleworking, tele-presence). Higher investment is needed in active equipment (with a life-time of 5-10 years). An interim solution to invest in fibre infrastructure would most likely only be postponed by 10-15 years.
    • Sustainability: New copper-based technologies (e.g.: vectoring, can deliver high speeds, but suffer from the same limitations. Bridge technology towards complete fibre optic cable infrastructure.
  • Coaxial cables

    The classical cable connection would be the two wires of a telephone line (‘twisted pair’), most prone to disturbance effects such as interferences. Broadband internet via coaxial cable is usually offered to customers via the existing cable TV network. The coaxial cable consists of a copper core and a copper-shielding coat. The TV cable networks are therefore much more efficient than the traditional telephone networks.

    • Pros: This requires relatively low investment needed for passive infrastructure and is also least disruptive for the end users. This infrastructure offers slightly more opportunities to deliver higher broadband speeds than on telephone lines and, if the infrastructure is properly upgraded and distances kept short, ultra-fast speeds may become possible in short to medium term.
    • Cons: The bandwidth is shared among several users reducing its availability during peak traffic periods of the day. The impossibility of unbundling makes service competition basically absent in the cable market; seldom present in the digital-divide areas. An interim soultion to invest in fibre infrastruture would most likely only be postponed by 10-15 years as with copper wires.
    • Sustainability: Further implementation of new standards (DOCSIS 3.1) will allow for higher bandwidths to end-users
  • Optical fibre

    Optical fibre lines consist of cables of glass fibre connected to end-users’ homes (FTTH), buildings (FTTB) or street cabinets (FTTC). They allow for transmission rates of up to several Gbps within 10 to 60 km efficiency range. This is the best solution, requiring high investment in passive infrastructure.

    • Pros: Extremely high level of transmission rates and symmetry
    • Cons:High investment in passive infrastructure due to the high costs for civil engineering for excavation and piping.
    • Sustainability:Next generation technology with capacities to meet high bandwidth demands expected in the near future.

Deployment Methods

Wired broadband infrastructure deployment is a cost and resource intensive option. Reducing the costs will encourage investments in broadband roll-out and lower the threshold for market entry.

Accessing alternative infrastructures, utilities networks and by using low-impact deployment strategies (such as trenching), wired broadband deployment may be sensibly reduced.

Wireless Broadband Technologies

Wireless broadband technologies include mobile radio solutions (e.g. HSPA, LTE), fixed radio solutions (e.g. WiMAX) and satellite solutions.

  • Antenna sites for wireless connections

    A terrestrial wireless broadband connectivity is usually provided by WiMax (4/4 Mbps down-/upstream rate within 60 km efficiency range), Wi-Fi (300/300 Mbps down-/upstream rate within 300 m efficiency range) or 4G/LTE (100/30 Mbps down-/upstream within 3 to 6 km efficiency range) solutions. Further improvements will focus on new standards with additional features and the provision of additional frequency spectrums (5G).

    Whenever the upgrade of the wired infrastructure is not possible, and funds for FTTB/FTTH are not available for a certain area, an option is to build infrastructure for terrestrial wireless broadband, mainly antenna sites for point-to-multipoint connections (e.g. WiMax, Wi-Fi, 4G/LTE).

    • Pros:First mile wire connections not needed. The infrastructure can be used for commercial mobile services as well
    • Cons:Since bandwidth can be shared among several users, peak traffic periods of the day will reduce the available bandwidth for each user. Signal strength decreases fast with distance, and is affected by weather; disturbed line-of-sight may reduce signal quality. Interim solution: investment in fibre infrastructure may be needed within 10-15 years.
    • Sustainability:To access futureNGA-services, bandwidth needs require additional frequencies; however the available spectrum is limited
  • Satellite broadband​

    Satellite Broadband, also referred to as internet-by-satellite, is a high-speed bi-directional internet connection established via communications satellites instead of a telephone landline or other terrestrial means. Satellites are located in the geostationary orbit. The end customer sends and receives data via a satellite dish on the rooftop.

    • Pros: It requires low investment for passive infrastructure as regional backbone and area networks arenot needed. It is easy to connect users scattered over a relatively large area (regional, macro-regional or even national).
    • Cons: Limited total number of users can be covered in one region. Its inherently high signal latency due to the propagation time to and from satellite hampers certain applications.A relatively high cost of end-user active equipment is needed. Bad weather and limited line-of-sight may reduce signal quality. Data traffic is typically capped monthly or daily in current commercial offers.
    • Sustainability: The available bandwidth especially depends on the amount of users that demand the satellite technology. Depending on further development potentials (e.g. transmission methods, satellite constellation), the technology will play a significant role in covering areas that are not yet connected otherwise.

Upcoming Technologies

Next generation communication systems will most probably be the first instance of a truly converged network where wired and wireless communications will use the same infrastructure.

  • 5G - converged networks

    5G describes the next phase of mobile telecommunications standards beyond the current 4G/LTE. 5G should allow for an application end-to-end latency of 1 milliseconds or less, according to Ericsson white paper 2015.
    Devices and applications will automatically select the network that best suits their needs. Industry and research expect a commercial roll-out of 5G in 2020.

    • Pros: 5G offers improvements in coverage, signalling efficiency, transmission rates (min. 1 Gbps) and reduced latency. Unlike in existing networks, 5G will include many different radio technologies – each optimised for a specific need (e.g. connecting cars, houses and energy infrastructures).Vectoring
  • Vectoring

    Vectoring is a transmission method for the VDSL-technology to limit interferences on copper wires (cross talk cancellation). It is fast to install as it builds on the existing street cabinet infrastructure.

    • Pros: Vectoring offers further transmission and range improvements (100/40 Mbps down-/upstream rate within 1 km efficiency range).
    • Cons: Although technically feasible at the moment, vectoring is incompatible with local-loop unbundling but future standard amendments could bring a solution.

    Besides the method of fault rectification through vectoring, in terms of achieving higher bandwidths on copper-based infrastructure, the method is pursued, to transmit signals at a higher frequencies range. is a technology which reaches, in combination with vectoring and the transmission of signals with 100 megahertz and more, bandwidths of several hundred Mbps via copper cable, however, only via relatively short distances (500/500 Mbps down-/upstream rate within 250 m efficiency range). Therefore, this technology is primarily intended to be used for FTTB infrastructures.

Future trends and developments

Research and development increasingly focus on All-internet Protocol Network (AIPN). This allows to improve communication and data transmission via Internet Protocol (IP)-based network technologies and services that include internet telephony or VoIP (Voice-over Internet Protocol).

IP-based data packet transmission allows the development of innovative services and applications independently from the underlying network infrastructure. 5G is a typical example of the convergence of mobile communication and parallel existing broadband network technologies.

Recent developments involve network infrastructures to be complemented by all-optical-networks, which will allow application- and content-routing and switching

A fourth strand of research includes the post-IP type of data transmission, which is characterised by:

  • New architecture with management capability supporting multi-domain;
  • New wireless-friendly (energy and spectral efficiency) protocols capable of supporting a variety of wireless networks, from very low power sensor networks to wide area mobile networks.

Existing and future transmission rates, innovative methods of data compression and improvements to transmission standards will meet bandwidth-intensive services and applications. It should be noted that the compression method is always lossy in terms of quality of data (e.g. TV-formats, video conferences) and the secure transmission of critical applications (e.g. remote measurements and evaluations).

Last updated on 21/09/2015 - 15:59