During 2009, a national broadband strategy was published by the Swedish government. The strategy, based on a market based approach, contains five prioritised areas with corresponding measures. The strategy has sent a clear signal about the political road-map for broadband in Sweden. On an overall level, the vision is to establish world class broadband. This means that in the year 2020 at least 90 percent of all Swedish households and businesses shall have a 100 Mbps broadband connection. However, no later than 2015, at least 40 percent shall have broadband with the mentioned speed. In addition, all households and businesses shall have good possibilities to use broadbandbased societal services. This vision is important to keep in mind as it stresses the need to get a coherent view of the current broadband situation. The broadband survey conducted by the Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) can provide such a view. Also, the results from the survey give a clear direction: If Sweden is to succeed with the government’s intentions, continuous upgrading and investments in broadband infrastructure are needed in the whole country.
PTS’ broadband survey shows that the broadband coverage in Sweden is good but that the actual speed experienced by the end users differs between different parts of the country. An actual speed of 1 Mbps can be provided through all established access techniques. However, there are areas where the existing broadband infrastructure is not future-proof, i.e. it can not handle increased demand for capacity. This vulnerability is most striking for households and businesses in less commercial attractive parts of the country (rural areas). This is a challenge. PTS’ broadband survey shows that Swedish society is getting more and more dependent on broadband and the agency foresees an increase in consumed bandwidth. At this point it is difficult to pinpoint the exact uptake and magnitude of the expected increase.
In the current situation, there are several driving forces for the surge in digital information that creates a heavy traffic load on the networks. Among the contributing factors are:
- Usage of new services requiring more bandwidth (such as high definition video).
- Usage of more digital services, i.e. more activities are performed via broadband. - Higher frequency of usage, i.e. more services are used more often and for a longer time.
- Simultaneous usage, i.e. more services are used at the same time.
Access techniques that can handle high speeds is not enough, in order to fulfil the targets in the governmental strategy.
An extensive backhaul infrastructure is also required. Lack of capacity threatens giving rise to a digital divide. This divide would provide a challenge for the everyday life of rural inhabitants and decrease their possibilities to earn a living.
The brodband strategy means that the government has assigned several tasks and a leading role for PTS. Therefore, PTS needs to increase activities for market-based broadband investments and upgrades. The primarily tools for a successful achievement are at the moment:
- The pro-competitive measures, such as securing a sustainable playing field with clear incentives to invest in new broadband networks.
- An efficient spectrum management designated to improve broadband accessibility and coverage.
In the survey, PTS points to the fact that the broadband expansion has been rapid in Sweden. During the period 2007-2009, there has been improved coverage for all commercial broadband access techniques. In 2009 the main expansion has been in fiber optic networks and mobile broadband based on the HSPA-technology. This means that broadband coverage has increased from 35 to 40 percent of the households and 94 percent to more than 99 percent respectively. As a result, the dependency on a single access technique has decreased among households and created a situation where close to all households and businesses have broadband coverage, i.e. are living or managing commercial activities in areas with broadband infrastructure.
However, the expansion of broadband and the increased dependency on broadband connection have also created a vulnerable situation for society and decreased the tolerance for any distortions. This makes security and robustness issues a great challenge for the future. Furthermore, there are still some 2 800 households and businesses without any broadband coverage and a large group that is dependent on wireless technologies with limited capacity
It could also be worth mentioning that on a regional and local level, there are obstacles for households and businesses to get broadband access without delay and additional costs. Such obstacles can be of a geographical nature (mountains, forests, valleys), creating interferences with radio signals. It could also be due to constructions costs (digging and machinery) or installation of equipment. In some cases an operator can be unable to accept new subscribers for a specific address. In other words, there are a lot of barriers that can limit the real possibilities to get broadband access, underlining that a lot of work still needs to be done in order to secure world class broadband for all.