High-speed broadband rapidly expanding to rural areas in Finland

 (Petri Vironen / Yle)
(Petri Vironen / Yle)
Finland has rapidly extended its high-speed communication network to sparsely populated areas. Over one million utility poles have already been eliminated throughout the country.

Fixed high-speed Internet access is spreading quickly in Finland, even in areas that are sparsely populated. Telecommunications operators find it more profitable to invest in wireless networks than to continue to repair and service aging power line connections. Wireless technology has also significantly reduced the incidence of long service outages caused by storms and other disturbances.

The landline phone on the wall in Marja-Liisa Eskola’s home in the southern village of Porlammi still rings, but the connection it taps into doesn’t run through the power lines because it works wirelessly.

Eskola has been happy with her new connection, saying she hasn’t noticed deterioration in service since the wireless transfer. As a retiree, she maintains her landline as a security back-up to her mobile phone.

“Even if I forget to charge my cell phone battery, the landline always works,” she says.

A drive to replace traditional phone lines with wireless technology has been underway in Finland for some time. In the last eight years, telecom operator Sonera has eliminated over one million aged utility poles in sparsely populated areas, with plans to remove another 600,000 in coming years. The large majority of the dismantled power line networks hosted very little traffic.

“Substantial migration has meant that a lot of the old lines weren’t used at all. There were no more customers left to serve,” says TeliaSonera Finland’s Vice-President Eila Rummukainen.

Fibre-optics target difficult-to-reach places

Wireless communication networks make it possible to provide sparsely populated areas with much faster service. Rummukainen says areas that previously had a 1 Mbps or one megabit connection now enjoy 24Mbps after going wireless.

For difficult locations beyond the scope of the wireless network, telecoms have built connections based on fibre-optic technology.

“In the far north Lapland city of Utsjoki, for example, where it is difficult to provide decent wireless coverage due to the terrain and the proximity of the Norwegian border, we have built an extensive optical fibre network that includes fibre-optics network connections for our customers,” says Rummukainen.

Reduction in long-terms defects

The wireless network is not nearly as susceptible to storm damage as the old power network supported by utility poles. Long service outages that ran on for weeks have already become a thing of the past due to the switch to wireless, says Sonera. Base stations are still, however, largely powered by the electric grid and a prolonged AC power outage could interfere with the wireless connection.

“The base stations have been equipped with three or six-hour backup batteries to cover the period of a normal power failure. But if a longer break occurred, it would affect the wireless system,” says Rummukainen.

In Finland, everyone is entitled to obtain a functioning 1 Mbps broadband subscription to their home or place of business. The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA) secures the rights of the users by designating a telecoms operator to provide broadband subscriptions, known as universal service subscriptions, in the areas where the supply is otherwise insufficient.

About 85 percent of the Finnish population currently has access to fixed high-speed broadband. FICORA estimates that the number has increased again in 2014, as new 3G and 4G networks are continuously being built throughout the country.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Report suggests subsidies for internet, phone bills in Canada’s North, CBC News

Norway: Norway plans broadband Internet in Arctic, The Associated Press

Greenland: Greenland seeks Canadian culprit for broken undersea telecom cable, CBC News

Sweden:  Concern over quality as fiber net expands in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States:  Broadband Internet forges into rural Alaska, Alaska Dispatch


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