It’s not often you hear an operator praising a regulator, but Spain’s biggest broadband players found time in their talks to do just that at the 2018 FTTH Conference.

The event, taking place in Valencia, saw MasMovil, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone discussing what the country had got right to enable them to pass 17.5 million residential premises with pure fibre, up from just one million in 2011, according to the latest figures from the FTTH Council.

Telefónica Group CTIO Enrique Blanco (pictured) praised the “regulatory framework”, which Vodafone Spain CTO Ismael Asenjo also agreed had supported deployment, while Orange Spain CTO Monica Sala put regulation at the top of her list of reasons why Spain is a “fibre-rich country”.

Ronan Kelly, President of the FTTH Council Europe, summed up the mood by hailing the Spanish government’s "vision" in taking Spain from being a "zero to hero" in fibre.

Álvaro Nadal Belda, Minister of Energy, Tourism and the Digital Agenda, was on hand to summarise the government’s approach, highlighting, for example, how operators were allowed to use the façades of buildings to install fibre.

Nadal Belda also claimed that the government had not overcharged operators for things like spectrum, but had required them to invest this extra money in their networks.

He also said that public money had been key in reaching areas that were not viable to cover by normal commercial means.

Orange Spain CTO Monica Sala highlighted the importance of being able to cooperate with rivals.

“Co-investment is a key factor to lower cost,” she said, claiming such deals are the “smarter way” to deploy, offering both reduced cost and time to market.

She listed a number of deals Orange has made, including with MasMovil in 2017, Vodafone in 2014 and Telefónica in 2012.

Teaming up with Vodafone had allowed both operators to halve their costs for deploying to some 2.2 million households, Sala said.

Including enterprises, Orange now passes 11.3 million premises in Spain and has around two million FTTH customers, a fourfold increase since 2015.

Thanks to Orange Spain’s acquisition of Jazztel, MasMovil is one of the newest entrants to the FTTH game.

The company acquired broadband assets from Orange as part of the terms of the Jazztel deal, but Fernando Molina, CTO at MasMovil, said the operator is still trying to “find [its] spot”.

To do so it is looking away from the big cities to areas with less competition to deploy FTTH and has so far passed 1.5 million premises.

Around two-thirds of these are in areas with less than 20,000 inhabitants, Molina said.

Like Orange, Vodafone relied on M&A to gain a foothold in Spain’s broadband market.

Its 2014 acquisition of Ono has enabled it to gain a sizeable footprint, with 3.4 million premises passed.

All three of these operators continue to play catch up to market leader Telefónica.

As Group CTIO of the incumbent, Enrique Blanco had the biggest success story to talk up, as the operator has seen a 17-fold increase in FTTH premises passed since 2011.

Blanco admitted some of the company’s success in passing 18.6 million premises reflected legacy investments the operator had made over the years, particularly the wide availability of ducts.

But he also credited a relentless drive for efficiency and finding the best technology to use or “inventing it if it doesn’t exist”.

What stood out most from the talk was what Blanco called an “end-to-end” approach to fibre, which puts service rather than technology at the heart of the business model.

“What is a customer asking for [when they buy fibre]?” he asked.

Blanco claimed that in buying fibre customers are looking for a particular quality of experience, including throughput but also crucially a good experience across the home.

However, he said: “The industry is looking for price but not quality.

“At Telefónica we decided we are not offering fibre at home, we are offering an experience at home supported by fibre.”

This meant investing several years ago in building a Wi-Fi proposition capable of doing justice to the performance made available by fibre, in particular via building a new Telefónica-branded router.

“Without [good Wi-Fi] fibre is not enough,” Blanco said, noting incident rates are down 43 percent compared to the industry average.

The message from Spain seems to be that government policy can certainly get you far, but beyond that it will fall to the business and technological ingenuity of operators to find an approach that works for them.

Or as Nadal Belda said: “Governments don’t make innovations but they do allow them.”

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