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Europe makes gains in FTTH

EuroPhotonics
Aug 2010
Caren B. Les, caren.les@photonics.com

ZAVENTEM, Belgium – There were close to 41 million fiber-to-the-home/ building (FTTH/B) subscribers worldwide in 2009, and the figure is expected to rise to 52 million in 2010, according to IDATE Consulting and Research, based in Montpellier, France. The company predicts that by the end of 2014 there will be close to 306 million residences around the globe enabled for FTTH/B, of which 18 percent will be located in western Europe – and of which more than half will still be in Asia.

“Several European countries show good progress in FTTH deployments. This includes the ‘FTTH pioneers’ in northern Europe like Sweden or Denmark as well as several Eastern European countries. But Europe as a whole still lags behind compared to Asia and North America. Especially the big economies which are also members of G-20 … don’t have a lot of FTTH/B deployments at the moment. While France and Italy have at least connected approximately one percent of their households to fiber, Germany and UK don’t show any significant deployments at the moment,” commented Hartwig Tauber, director general of the FTTH Council Europe, based in Zaventem.

Tauber said that the whole of Europe, including Russia, has 3.5 million FTTH/B customers. Europe alone, without Russia, has 2.5 million customers, he added.

Benefits of FTTH/B

Fiber to the home is the term used for the delivery of a communication signal over optical fiber directly to a home (or business), eliminating the need for copper infrastructure such as telephone wires and coaxial cable. Current fiber optic technology can provide two-way transmission speeds of up to 100 Mb/s, according to the FTTH Council Europe.


Fiber-to-the-home technology is expected to expand in Europe, providing subscribers with benefits such as the rapid downloading of high-definition movies. Courtesy of i3 Group Ltd.


The Council notes on its Web site that ongoing improvements in fiber optic equipment are constantly increasing available bandwidth without having to change the fiber, making it “future proof.” The benefits of the technology for subscribers include rapid up- and downloading of files, such as of photos and high-definition movies, and access to a variety of interactive applications, such as video communication, video on demand, teleworking, telemedicine, gaming, cloud computing, e-learning and e-government.

IDATE’s end-of-2009 list of the top 10 countries in terms of FTTH/B subscribers worldwide was headed by Japan, South Korea and the US, with 17.1 million, 9.2 million and 5.7 million connections, respectively. In descending order, Sweden, Italy and France trailed on the list, with 537,100, 325,000 and 308,200 subscribers, respectively.

Roland Montagne, director of IDATE’s Telecoms Business Unit, commented that even if FTTH/B is progressing in Europe, the main weakness today is the technology’s low penetration rate. He noted that the ratio of subscribers to homes passed (homes that can easily be connected) at the end of 2009 was around 37 percent in Japan and 29 percent in the US, but only 15 percent in Europe, so it seems that consumers and businesses don’t perceive the FTTH benefits yet, he added.

Report from Lisbon

The FTTH/B market is growing steadily in western and northern Europe, stated representatives from the FTTH Council Europe and IDATE during a press conference at the FTTH Conference 2010 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Their corresponding document Creating a Brighter Future includes the FFTH European Ranking 2009, compiled by the two organizations. Sweden, Norway and Denmark ranked second, third and sixth, respectively, below Lithuania, which was in the top position. Representing the G-20 major economies, France and Italy are on the list, while the UK and Germany are notably absent. The ranking, which totaled 15 countries, and upon which many of the report conclusions are based, covers all countries with at least 200,000 households where the penetration of FTTH/B has reached 1 percent of the total number of homes.

The report notes that, besides Lithuania, several other Eastern European countries are significantly deploying the technology: Slovenia, Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria are in the ranking as well.

The document mentions that in Portugal, the collaborative efforts of many players moved the technology forward significantly within a year. Portugal boasted a 186 percent increase in FFTH subscribers in 2009 and a fivefold increase in homes passed by fiber. The country is investing in next-generation fiber networks and aims to reach 100 percent coverage of the Portuguese territory, according to conference news.

Ethernet is still the first choice of players and represented 84 percent of the total FTTH/B rollouts at the end of 2009, according to IDATE.

Topics of discussion at the FTTH Conference 2010 included how businesses and end users can use the high bandwidth, interactive television and convergence of television and the Internet, the still developing and sometimes controversial regulatory status for broadband and FTTH, and innovative and efficient methods of deploying fiber to the living unit within existing multidwelling units.

Fiber to the UK and Italy

“With less than 5000 fiber subscribers, when compared with 5.3 million fiber broadband-enabled homes in Sweden, the UK is way behind when it comes to next-generation access,” said Chris Holden, president of the FTTH Council, in a June 2010 press release.

Work to boost FTTH technology in the UK is in progress, however. For example, Fibrecity Holdings, an i3 Group company based in Newton Le Willows, UK, plans to build in the UK over the next four years a fiber optic network that will connect more than 1 million homes and businesses. The initiative is expected to deliver standard speeds of 100 Mb/s and boosts of up to 1 Gb/s.

During the next 12 months, the company plans to begin building networks in Derby, Halton, Nottingham, Plymouth and York; other UK cities are also under consideration. Fibrecity networks are already under way in Dundee and Bournemouth. More than 35,000 homes have subscribed in the latter city as of May 2010. The i3 Group uses cost-effective techniques such as installing fiber optic networks using existing ducts, including the sewer system, to avoid the cost and disruption of road digging.

“The antiquated copper ‘last mile’ is the biggest problem for connectivity speeds, slowing them down significantly by the time the network reaches the home and the consumer is trying to access services. Building fiber to the curb or cabinet will improve speeds, but in my opinion, this is a very short term solution. Only a true fiber-to-the-home connection will ensure we have a solution that will see us through several decades rather than being outdated in a few years,” said Elfed Thomas, CEO of i3 Group Ltd.

In Italy, three alternative communication operators – Vodafone, Wind and Fastweb – have announced plans to install a single fiber access network across the country. Initially, they aim to connect 15 major Italian cities within five years, with an overall investment of nearly €2.5 billion. In the second phase of the project, they plan to extend the network to cover towns with more than 20,000 inhabitants, reaching about 50 percent of the Italian population. The FTTH Conference 2011 is scheduled to be held in Milan, Italy.

By 2020, Holden concluded, one in five broadband users in the UK will be able to access FTTH; however, other European nations such as Germany, France and Italy will adopt the ultrafast broadband technology at a faster rate and reach this minimum target a couple of years earlier.


GLOSSARY
optical fiber
A thin filament of drawn or extruded glass or plastic having a central core and a cladding of lower index material to promote total internal reflection (TIR). It may be used singly to transmit pulsed optical signals (communications fiber) or in bundles to transmit light or images.  
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