Most communications networks in Europe are fast upgrading to IP packet-switched technology which enables voice, video and data applications to be delivered over the same physical network.
As a result, communications services can no longer be separated – they belong naturally together in a bundle. To providers, bundled services enables them to differentiate packages from those of competitors, and so attract and retain customers. For users, bundles represent ease of billing and generally cheaper costs that if services were taken individually – by mid-2010 about 19% of households in Europe subscribed to a bundled offer with a single bill (i.e. a commercial offer from an operator which includes two or more telecom or broadcasting services).
The range of bundles has become extensive, but Paul Budde – he of budde.com fame – reckons the most common are the double play of broadband and fixed-line voice services, followed by triple-play (broadband, voice and IPTV). The convergence of services has been mirrored by operators establishing themselves in sectors other than their core ones, with the result that quad-play services (including mobile telephony) became common during 2010 both from cablecos and mobile network operators.
This bundling of services has transformed the telecoms and TV broadcasting industries, bringing players in both sectors together as direct competitors in the market. The process has required a significant realignment of the organisations involved. The market for digital media services in Europe is vast, and so the sector will continue to attract considerable investment.
By the end of 2012, digital TV (DTV) will be available in almost all homes as the last of the EU countries switch from analogue broadcasting. Some analogue services will remain in tandem, depending on the business plans of individual operators, but the completion of digital switchover is necessary to release vital sub-GHz spectrum – the digital dividend – which can be refarmed for use in the broadcasting sector or, more commonly, for mobile broadband services.
The key to the future of digital media and convergence is the ability of operators to migrate to a fully IP-based network. Several countries in Europe are in the process of this migration, whether by incumbents or the larger competitors. A number of regulatory issues have been addressed by the move to NGNs across the region, principally concerning the effects on competition and access to networks, while a range of stimulus packages during 2009 and 2010 has provided public funds to expedite those network upgrades required to develop the digital media sector. Consumer demand for high-bandwidth services has also encouraged some governments, such as those in Denmark and Finland, to develop national FttH networks which can provide 1Gb/s to households – this anticipates not only services such as multiple-stream HD 3D TV but also allows for crucial applications such as high-end medical imagery and x-rays as well as academic/research services in coming years.
For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: European Digital Media Market