Bologna shows Italy how to get in fibre broadband fast lane with 300Mbps

The Italian region of Bologna is showing how local councils can help speed up fibre rollouts.

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The city of Bologna. Image: Shutterstock
Better late than never: while Italy's average broadband speed is still significantly slower than that of other European countries, ISPs are working to help the country catch up, rolling out a number of initiatives in some of the country's major cities.

One such initiative was launched in Bologna late last month when Metroweb began offering residents of three neighbourhoods in the centre of the city a 'fibre to the home' connection with download speeds of up to 300Mbps and 20Mbps for uploads.

It's the first fruit of a deal signed in March by network service provider Metroweb, which physically deployed the cable, and will lease the dark fibre to Vodafone and other carriers - and the local municipality.

"Thanks to this agreement, we will be able to further implement our vision of a connected city, in line with the European Digital Agenda targets," head of the town's Digital Agenda and Information Technologies department, Osvaldo Panaro told ZDNet.

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It's a twofold strategy. To better connect local government offices to each other and to the internet, in 2012 the city decided to deploy its own fibre network, investing €1.9m and linking up more than 100 sites. "In 2015, the goal is to add to this infrastructure all the schools as well," Panaro says.

To give business and private households better connectivity, the municipality opted to create favourable conditions for ISPs such as Metroweb thinking of investing in the city.

To deploy the network, the municipality created a register of all the cables that had been previously laid underground during works for street lighting, telecommunications, sewage, and so on, so that companies would know where they could take advantage of existing infrastructure and where new cable would have to be installed.

"In 2002-2003, everybody wanted to dig. So, at the time, to give them the permit for the cables, we asked all operators to install some extra cabling as well, to leave at the municipality's disposal for future use. To be more precise, we asked for six unused cables for each pipe," Panaro said. These unused cables acted as placeholders, with the understanding that they could be replaced later - in this case, they were replaced by the fibre optic lines.

It turned out to be a farsighted plan, removing much of the burden from Metroweb when it decided to start laying its own cable this year; there were still areas where it was necessary to dig, but it was far less onerous than rolling it out from scratch.

To make the works even easier, Panaro's department speeded up the process of getting the necessary right permits to carry out the works and supervised the digging to make sure it wouldn't interfere with the daily life of the inhabitants of Santo Stefano, Savena, and Navile, the three districts that were selected for the experiment. "We chose these specific areas because they are also populated by established business and startups which could take advantage of the performance granted by this new infrastructure," town councilor Matteo Lepore said.

Together, the neighborhoods are home to approximately 40,000 households, roughly 20 percent of Bologna's residents. By the end of next year, Metroweb plans to extend the fibre optic coverage to 160,000 households - nearly all of the city's residents.

Vodafone's 300Mbps FTTH service, which was rolled out last month in Milan, is the fastest available consumer broadband in Italy so far. It's part a €3.6bn investment plan by the company to extend the coverage of next-generation network coverage in Italy.

Its two main broadband competitors, Fastweb and Telecom Italia, are also working on similar initiatives. The former is planning to reach roughly 27 percent of the Italian population (7.5 million households and business in 100 cities) with its 100Mbps fibre in two years. Telecom Italia, meanwhile, is expanding its 30Mbps product - which reaches up to 100Mbps in some cities - and will bring fast broadband to 70 percent of the population by the end 2015.

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