I recently returned from a European Holiday with the family visiting the UK, France, Monaco, and Spain. I can’t seem to turn off the Telecom nerd in me, so I end up walking around staring at the ground looking for Telecom handholes/manholes, telecom flowerpots and getting distracted by every orange marker thinking it may point out some fiber infrastructure. Here are a few of my thoughts from the trip I thought I’d share.

For the cell phones, I didn’t worry about getting a local SIM or anything like that. I have ATT as my wireless provider, I paid the daily roaming charge of $10/day for 4G/5G connectivity, and I was able to use my phone as I would at home in the US. If you are going to be staying in one country for an extended period of time it may make sense to get a local SIM and save some money, but I was in London for 4 days and then moving on, so I opted for the more convenient option.

One thing to note is you will need to stay on the lookout for Wi-Fi. These European cities have a history spanning thousands of years. In the historic areas, which are probably most of the places you will want to spend your time as a tourist, the buildings of likely 100+ years hold. This means they are all thick brick and stone walls. 4G/5G signals could be weak and leave you frustrated. Most every place we visited had free Wi-Fi and it was easier and less frustrating to just connect to that right away.

UK (London) –. London is of course very well connected. I spoke with several people about their connectivity at home and work and there were not a lot of complaints within the Metro. Fairly easy to pick up a Gig broadband connection. Every intersection had fiber (fibre for you Europeans) markers of some sort. If you keep up on telecom news it would be hard to miss the constant news regarding new FTTH/FTTB build outs in the UK. Internet infrastructure seems to be doing well. Most BB carriers are running at least DOCSIS 3.1 and with the large investments happening things seem to be heading in the right direction, at least the Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, although there does also seem to be a fair bit of investment in more rural parts of the country. With Brexit there was a bit of a drain on the talent pool, but it doesn’t seem to have had too much of an effect on the overall momentum of internet 2.0. They still have a ways to go to catch up to other western European countries such as France, but things are moving in the right direction. Cost wise it seems comparable to US standards. The one big hurdle for the UK at the moment seems to be their love of bureaucracy. If they can streamline the red tape they will catch up to the competition very quickly.

France (Paris/Nice) – As is their forte, France is pushing to be a leader in Europe, and they seem to be head of some of their larger competition, such as the UK and Germany in the infrastructure space. France does seem to be embracing technology in general for all sorts of industries from Telehealth to AI and it all requires reliable high speed data connections. In many aspects France holds onto tradition and the people don’t always like change, but they do like being the best. Just ask any French person and they will tell you they are the de facto leaders of western Europe. It is hard to disagree when in almost every place you go in Europe you see heavy French influence in everything from food to architecture and more recently in science and technology (although I would still say the good ole USA still leads in science and technology globally, although how much longer we can hang on is up for debate). France is well ahead of the UK in terms of fiber penetration and much more so than Germany. It is also a very popular landing point for the majority of the most important sub-sea cables and landing stations. Paris has become more of a hub data center and peering hub, and Marseille has become very important for connectivity thanks to the 16 sub-sea cables landing there heading to MENA and APAC not to mention the cables landing in the northwest of France on the Atlantic coast connecting to the Americas. On the residential side it seems to be largely dominated by just a couple larger players, but as long as access, bandwidth continue to push forward, and pricing doesn’t break the bank the French seem OK with a lack of competition. Indeed, in the US we still have most places where you are stuck dealing with the ILEC and MSO without much additional competition unless you happen to be in a large metropolitan area. Outside of Paris we visited Nice and had no issues with connectivity anywhere and I saw plenty of fiber infrastructure everywhere we went.

Monaco – Everyone’s favorite tax haven and second smallest country (principality) outside the Vatican. Monaco was the most beautiful and cleanest city I’ve ever been to. I can’t say enough good things about it and it’s safe to say the city state left an impression on me. As far as telecommunications go, they are run by a monopoly (monopoly on the landline side, 4G/5G is open to competition) aptly named Monaco Telecom. Although like most of Europe, it is an old city, most of the buildup is relatively new. It’s a very modern city and as such we really didn’t run into any spotty areas where 4G/5G connectivity gave us any issues. Although on the fiber side, it is a monopoly, there seems to be decent agreements in place for expanded connectivity via any number of telecoms such as Lumen. Monaco Telecom has a few smaller subsidiaries in countries like Malta and Cypress, and other areas where they run 4G/5G networks as a way to shore up the company, which is currently majority owned by French telecom billionaire Xavier Niel of Illiad and Free notoriety, with a minority ownership (45%) by the principality.

Spain (Madrid) – Despite a difficult history of seemingly endless conflict and economic turmoil, Spain is making massive headways in their infrastructure development. There is a popular stereotype that the Spanish are very laid back and not overly hard workers, but from what I saw, things are going pretty well despite the hurdles. Yes, many of the locals take off a couple hours in the afternoon (it was insanely hot midafternoon, and this is coming from a Floridian) there was a constant flurry of activity everywhere you look. The younger generations in particular really seem to be eager to earn their place right next to the French, British, and Italians as world leaders. There has been significant investment in infrastructure of all sorts since the 80’s and it is paying off. Fiber penetration is around 70%, the second highest in Europe only behind Belarus (Note however Belarus is 2/5th the size of Spain), which was quite the surprise once I found out. The Spanish may way to think about getting a little more braggadocios about that and maybe taking on some of the new landing stations themselves (Portugal and France take in most of the sub-sea cables today). Overall, I was fairly impressed with the Spanish infrastructure.

The fiber infrastructure of western Europe seems to be really hot at the moment and by all accounts will not be slowing down anytime soon. Based on the FTTH Counsil Europe by 2028 EU+UK will be seeing fiber penetration of about 64%. The US by comparison is about 20%. Sure, the EU are a lot smaller than the US size wise (EU is about half the size of the continental US), so it’s a bit easier to get infrastructure builds done, but we (USA) need to really push on this front to stay the leaders in this space or EU+UK will start to garner more of the attention from big tech. This is by new means a scientific study on this subject, just my individual assessment. Please comment if you have anything to add, would love to hear what your thoughts are on the European fibre market.

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