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The giga challenge

60,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable for superfast broadband: how Germany is driving forward digitisation and the expansion of its network.

Digitisation: Germany is expanding its fibre optic cable network.
Germany is expanding its fibre optic cable network. © dpa

In its coalition agreement, the German government has set itself the goal of creating a “world-class nationwide digital infrastructure”. By 2025, gigabit networks with fibre optic cables are to be created in every region and every community, ideally right up to each house.

Why is this network expansion necessary?

Digitisation is the hot topic right now, as the digital infrastructure has to be upgraded to meet new challenges. Industry 4.0 and driverless or interconnected vehicles are inconceivable without gigabit networks as they require real-time exchange of data. The upcoming 5G mobile data generation can only work if the transmission masts are connected to a fast fibre optic network.

How is network expansion progressing in Germany?

Germany has a very well-developed copper cable network, which is why “vectoring” was long seen as the way forward. In other words, the fibre optic cables run only as far as the distributor on the street. The existing copper cable is then used for the last section to the house itself. This reduces the overall bandwidth, however, so now the goal is FTTH: Fibre to the Home.

How much does expanding the fibre glass network cost?

Deutsche Telekom, Germany’s largest telecommunications provider, is investing around four billion euros per year, and now operates the biggest fibre optic network in Europe, boasting almost 500,000 kilometres of cables. Another 60,000 kilometres are to be added in 2018. During the current legislative period, the German government expects that ten to twelve billion euros of public funding will be needed.

What makes it so complicated to expand the network?

Unlike other countries, supply lines have to be run underground in Germany. Consequently, around 80 percent of the costs are incurred not by the technology itself, but by underground construction work – which makes the expansion process more difficult, especially in rural regions.