The Spanish government has distributed €448 million between a group of telcos to help cover the cost of upgrading isolated 5G base stations with fibre backhaul.

As part of the EU’s overarching post-Covid economic recovery plan, Spain’s UNICO 5G Networks Fibre Backhaul programme – overseen by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation (MINECO) – identified more than 8,000 sites deployed in locations with no more than 10,000 inhabitants that until now have relied on wireless backhaul.

Helping to cover the cost of upgrading these sites will stimulate the economy, both in terms of the civil engineering that will be carried out, and by narrowing the digital divide for end users.

On Friday, Cinco Dias reported (in Spanish) that no fewer than eight operators have been provisionally awarded contracts and funding from MINECO to wire these sites up.

Interestingly, it wasn’t the big multinational telcos and towercos that came out on top.

According to the report, wholesale operator Lyntia and retail fibre broadband provider Avatel pocketed the lion’s share of the cash, the former snaring €142 million to connect 2,900 locations, the latter €132.2 million for 2,700.

Another local fibre operator, Adamo, scooped €82.5 million and will deploy fibre to 1,670 sites. Incumbent Telefónica was awarded €73.5 million for 768 locations. The remaining four ‘also-rans’ were Orange Spain, its subsidiary Totem Towerco, Catalan telco Gurbtec, and Cellnex-owned Tradia. These all received less than €10 million from the pot.

Neither American Tower-owned Telxius, nor Vodafone’s Vantage Towers applied for funding in the first place, said Cinco Dias.

The fibre backhaul programme is part of Spain’s broader push to deploy ultrafast broadband coverage to 100% of the population by 2025. For the purposes of its strategy, ultrafast means at least 300-Mbps broadband that is upgradeable to symmetric 1-Gbps broadband. It also aims to connect public entities including R&D, defence facilities and training centres to at least 1-Gbps-capable networks, and increase Spain’s submarine cable capacity.

Networks are only worth having when there is a compelling enough reason to use them, and to that end, UNICO separately on Friday issued a call for experimental 5G projects that might be eligible for public funding.

An initial €10 million has been earmarked with the option of upping it by a further €5 million. The government is on the lookout for companies and research outfits based in Spain that are developing 5G applications and services with a budget of between €300,000 and €3 million.

UNICO is particularly interested in companies addressing the connected vehicle, agriculture, and audio-visual industries. It will also consider projects focused on tourism, education, security, emergency management, and energy.

Interested parties have until 4 August to apply.

Also in Spain last week, Vodafone’s local opco won a €25 million deal to supply NB-IoT smart water meters to Madrid’s publicly-owned water utility, Canal de Isabel II.

The five-year deal will see Vodafone supply 315,000 meters in total. It will also provide various related solutions designed to detect leaks and meter-tampering, and predict consumption patterns. The meters will also enable residents to keep track of their daily usage.

Canal de Isabel II is in the process of upgrading 100 percent of Madrid’s 6 million inhabitants to smart water meters.

“The control and proper management of water use in Spain is a constant and vital challenge,” said Daniel Barallat, director of IoT of Vodafone, in a statement on Thursday. “We put our most cutting-edge technology at the service of Canal de Isabel II to actively contribute to the better conservation of natural resources and the most efficient management of water in Madrid.”

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