[Via Satellite 05-11-2015] In 2008 Switzerland became the first nation to include broadband within the scope of its universal service scheme. Swisscom, the company responsible for fulfilling the country’s plan turned to SES to deliver Internet access from the Astra 2E satellite.
The universal service obligation speed in Switzerland is 2 Mbps downlink and 200 Kbps uplink. Peter Eschmann, Swisscom’s head of broadband service obligation told Via Satellite that the company’s service obligation is about 3,000/300 Kbps, and that it offers more speed during peak hours and poor weather conditions to guarantee the service availability.
In addition to capacity from SES, Swisscom purchased SkyEdge 2-c terminals from Gilat, and offers customers an additional Wide Area Network (WAN) router. Eschmann said customers benefit from Network Address Translation (NAT), Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) and Ethernet availability. Roughly 2 percent of homes in Switzerland cannot reach the required minimum transmission rate using DSL broadband. Using satellite, however, Swisscom is able to provide these services to those beyond the reach of effective terrestrial connectivity.
“We talk in this case of about 60,000 customers,” said Eschmann. “In most of these cases the cupper lines are too long for a DSL termination matching the universal service obligation.”
Dr. Angela Garcia Calvo, a fellow at the Collegio Carlo Alberto in Italy, told Via Satellite that the inclusion of broadband in universal service schemes should not be considered a trend that all countries will adopt — or at least not in the immediate future. While Switzerland is a frontrunner in this regard, other nations have different approaches.
“In the European Union (EU) the concept of universal service is associated with redistribution and social equality,” Garcia Calvo explained. “But even within that frame of mind, countries have different opinions about the inclusion of broadband in their schemes. Countries such as Spain, consider the inclusion of broadband in universal service as necessary, others such as the U.K. do not because they have a more restricted view of redistribution policies and consider that broadband services goes beyond the range of basic telecommunication services that universal service should cover. Yet other EU countries simply prefer to pursue redistribution and social justice objectives through other means.”
And policy is not the only variable. While satellite is known for its ability to reach unserved or underserved regions, this alone does not make it the go-to technology.
“Most advanced countries provide service through either legacy lines or the new networks that they are in the process of laying out. Satellites are usually used for difficult to reach areas that would be too costly or too difficult to cover with more conventional technologies,” said Garcia Calvo.
Eschmann said Swisscom only uses satellite connectivity to fulfill the broadband service obligation and that no other services are planned using satellite connections. Instead the telco is investing approximately $1.9 billion into Information Technology (IT) and infrastructure to keep pace with the skyrocketing data volume on its fixed-line network.
“By the end of December 2014, Swisscom and its partners had connected over 921,000 homes with Fiber to the Home (FTTH). In total, over 1.4 million ultra-broadband (≥50 Mbps) connections have been established. Swisscom will further supply 2.3 million homes and businesses with ultra-broadband by the end of 2015. By the end of 2020, 85 percent of all homes and businesses will be connected to the ultra-broadband network, with 80 percent enjoying bandwidths of over 100 Mbps,” Eschmann said.
Garcia Calvo said some advanced Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries are also exploring alternative ways to achieve universal service goals outside conventional universal service schemes, citing Japan and South Korea as examples. Both nations, she said, have comprehensive accessibility programs based on standard setting for telecom equipment and software, and on training schemes for the needs of different demographics. Garcia Calvo believes emerging countries have an interest in adopting the concept of universal service as part of national programs to extend the provision of adequate telecommunication services to firms and the population in general. Any industry partners will have to learn the best technology solution that fits their nation and its goals.
“In general, I would say that today the objectives behind universal service schemes (affordability, availability, accessibility) are as important if not more than ever. However, the concept of universal service is evolving and becoming more flexible. It is no longer only or mostly about imposing a set of specific obligations on carriers, but about finding the mechanisms that are most appropriate to achieve these general objectives, regardless of whether they fall formally within the scope of conventional universal service schemes,” said Calvo.
Eschmann said the Swiss government does not provide public funding for telco enterprises, and that Swisscom does not profit from any public funding. Still, he said the company is willing to go the extra mile to provide connectivity for its customers. He gave the example of the Swiss Alpine Club where, in order to implement the service, the company’s technicians needed a helicopter transfer.
“Generally it can be noted that special solutions such as broadband over satellite are not profitable. But as the universal service licensee, we are proud to serve all Swiss residents. However we profit from a certain revenue regarding the brand image,” said Eschmann.
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