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State of the Race for Lightning-fast Internet

Analysis

The European Commission is looking to boost the digitalization of EU member states with its Digital Decade 2030 strategy. A vital point of this is the improvement of digital connectivity, with an ambitious target of gigabit coverage to all EU households by 2030. How does Hungary measure up against other EU members with its current state of connectivity? According to research by Ookla, the answer is quite well.

A significant milestone the EC determined on the way to breakneck internet speeds for everyone is ensuring that all households, businesses, and public institutions should have access to “high internet speeds” of at least 100 Mbps by the end of 2025. The availability of such speeds is excellent across the EU, as 86.6% of households had access to broadband services exceeding 100 Mbps, EC data from 2022 says.

However, availability does not mean adoption. The Digital Economy and Society Index (Desi) 2023 dashboard for the Digital Decade reveals that some 55.08% of EU households had already subscribed to fixed broadband services with speeds of at least 100 Mbps. It is also important to note that having a subscription does not automatically equate to actually achieving such connection speeds.

In some countries like Spain, Sweden, and Romania, more than 80% of households subscribe to broadband exceeding 100 Mbps. Hungary is also well above the EU average, with 69.8% of households having subscribed to such services, yet the proportion of users achieving 100 Mbps+ speeds stands at only 55.24%, Ookla says.

In the longer run, the key to achieving gigabit coverage across the cContinent is the rollout of fiber networks. Compared to copper networks, fiber offers superior internet speeds, lower latency, enhanced security, and better environmental sustainability.

Hungary’s “fiber to home” accessibility stood at 73% last year. While that may be lagging behind the famously fast internet of Romania, where fiber coverage reached 97.7%, it was still ahead of the likes of Poland (63.3%), Italy (58.5%), and Germany (with a shocking 21.3%).

The aforementioned Desi 2023 dashboard shows just 13.76% of households in the EU have subscribed to fixed broadband with at least 1 Gbps as of 2022. Hungary performs very well at these upper margins as one of five countries surpassing the EU average. France leads the pack at 39.94%, with Hungary in second at 29.81%, followed by Romania at 23.35%, Denmark 18.66%, and Spain 14.57%.

High Percentage, Low Speed

However, Ookla notes that the high percentages might make people think that many households have Gigabit speeds. The proportion of Ookla Speedtest users registering median download speeds of at least 1 Gbps in many countries is relatively low. For example, France only had 1.42%, Hungary 0.54%, and Romania 0.1%.

One of the reasons behind this disparity, according to the company, is that in markets where advanced connections are replacing legacy broadband technology, wireless performance tends to lag behind ethernet, as typical Wi-Fi speeds may range between 30-40% of ethernet.

Median speeds are a standard metric for measuring performance, but there’s more to the story for the end-user experience. Access technology, be it DSL, cable, or fiber, as well as the equipment at customer premises and end-user devices, significantly influence the user experience, Ookla notes.

According to the company’s data from Q3 2023, across Europe, Denmark had the fastest median download speed for fixed broadband (196.43 Mbps), followed by Spain (176.08 Mbps), France (170.51 Mbps), and Romania (166.39 Mbps).

Hungary did decently well here, too, clocking in at 140.82 Mbps, behind Romania but ahead of the Netherlands. However, in terms of median upload speed, Hungary stood at 36.73 Mbps, which is in the bottom half of the surveyed countries. The type of broadband technology implemented can heavily influence the divergence between download and upload performance, Ookla notes.

One way to more accurately determine the performance of internet services across different countries is to look at the range of speeds that the majority of users experience. According to Speedtest Intelligence data from Q3 2023, the lower quartile download speed across European countries ranged from 28.15 Mbps to 81.48 Mbps, while upper quartile speeds ranged between 166.16 Mbps and 441.38 Mbps.

In Hungary, upper quartile speeds reached 401.96 Mbps, behind only France and Romania, while lower quartile speeds stood at 46.85 Mbps (a mid-table result).

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 3, 2023.

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