Last week saw the annual FTTH Council Europe conference. Held in Stockholm, I went along and was very impressed both by the organisation of the event and the number (and calibre) of attendees.
There was a definite buzz about the place, and recent research backs this up. At the end of 2013, Europe had 20.1 million Fibre to the Home/Building (FTTH/B) subscribers, with annual numbers growing by 29%. That’s nearly double 2012’s annual increase of 15%. France and Sweden top the charts, both with more than 1.2 million FTTH/B subscribers. Looking more broadly across Europe the Ukraine has 1.3 million and Russia 9 million FTTH/B subscribers. Certain countries saw extremely fast growth – subscriber numbers in Spain grew by 64% for example.
Furthermore, analysts Heavy Reading (who produced the figures for the FTTH Council Europe) predict that by 2018 there will be nearly 50 million FTTH lines in Europe. Much of this is being driven by incumbent telcos in France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Switzerland announcing plans for FTTH.
However, Europe is lagging behind other parts of the world. China and Japan have 37 million and 24.7 million FTTH/B subscribers respectively, while the United Arab Emirates has 85% of homes connected directly to fibre.
As the FTTH Council points out, Europe is still not a mature market and there is a need for focus to increase fibre penetration for the good of future competitiveness in a global economy. Given we operate across the world, particularly in North America, Africa and the Middle East, as well as Europe, it is interesting to compare the different market drivers we see for FTTH.
In North America, another mature market like Europe, investment in fibre is increasing rapidly. Google Fiber is being deployed in several metropolitan areas, including Kansas City and Austin, Texas, and has just announced plans to explore rollouts in another 34 cities. Other telcos are fighting back, announcing their own fibre programmes where they operate. New UltraHD TVs (which offer 4x higher resolution than traditional HD programming) are growing in popularity. Much of the content for these, from the likes of Amazon and Netflix, is being delivered by streaming, reinforcing the market opportunity for FTTH.
Looking at Africa, in many cases previous network infrastructure was sparse. Telcos are therefore bypassing the copper stage and moving straight to all-fibre deployments for their new networks, helping increase opportunities for people, governments and businesses. In the Middle East, the sheer scale of new building is staggering, with whole new cities springing up in many states. Fibre is an integral part of these new builds, providing residents and companies with high speed access to services, from video on demand and IPTV to vastly improved business communications.
Unlike other regions, what Europe seems to lack at present is a compelling event to unlock the move to FTTH. But that shouldn’t hide the long term issue. Even with new technologies, existing copper infrastructure won’t be able to cope with the demands placed on it forever, and new techniques such as pushable fibre are making FTTH deployments cheaper, faster and easier. The pioneers are already seeing fast FTTH subscriber growth – now is the time for others to take a look how they, and their customers, could benefit.