New statistics would appear to show that we were rather too harsh yesterday on Europe’s fibre progression, but the general feeling at Broadband World Forum is more akin to our slightly downbeat – or perhaps realistic – assessment.
The latest quarterly figures from analyst house Point Topic and The Broadband Forum show that the number of fibre lines has almost doubled across the continent to 7.5 million at the end of June 2012, which is up from 3.9 million at the same point last year.
In the UK for example, fibre of all types now has a 17.7 percent share of the broadband market.
FTTH grew 4.6 percent in Q2 – following growth of 5.5 percent between January and March – while FTTx grew 3.9 percent – following growth of 5.1 percent in Q1.
However, FTTH still only accounts for 2.8 percent of the overall market in the UK, while FTTx accounts for 14.8 percent.
In other words, operators are adding fibre but mainly when they can add it to a souped-up copper cable as well.
“The economics of deployment and the gradual ramping up of bandwidth demand means it’s much more sensible for operators to re-use what they can when they need to,” said Point Topic CEO Oliver Johnson.
FTTx lines in their myriad forms have almost tripled in the EU27 over the last 12 months.
“Growing from 1.2 million to 3.2 million lines gives an indication of how quickly the [FTTx] service is taken up when it’s offered and this is where we expect to see significant growth in the coming years,” added Johnson.
The announcement today that TDC has become the latest operator to sign up to trial Alcatel-Lucent’s VDSL2 Vectoring technology, for example, is just one example of this trend in action.
FTTN+VDSL2 technology has seen growth of 7.7 percent and six percent in the UK during the first two quarters of 2012, incidentally.
The problem with FTTH remains a return on investment.
Telecom Italia Lab head Sandro Dionisi told BBWF that the operator had started to delploy a FTTH strategy but soon realized the discrepancy between investment and return.
“We have changed approach and now are deplying a modulated investment strategy based on FTTC while the market is developing,” he revealed.
This approach is shared by KPN, whose CEO Eelco Blok described the Dutch incumbent’s strategy as “a hybrid strategy to upgrade copper and roll out fibre” in his keynote.
Typically within Europe, many different experiences exist.
Ove Alm, CEO of TeliaSonera-owned Skanova, which sells wholesale network capacity, said their copper network was not being used to the same levels.
Citing “huge competition” from other fibre providers, consumer demand for higher speeds, better QoS and a willingness by some to pay €2000 for FTTH, plus a copper network that is 60 years old, Alm said DSL would make up a very small part of Sweden’s future broadband needs.
However, Belgacom’s Wim De Meyer spoke for many others when he said Belgium was a very different country where customers would simply not countenance paying such a fee for fibre.
As such, the view of Paul Spruyt, A-L’s chief DSL strategist, that copper can deliver “high bandwidth today and in years to come as DSL technology evolves” holds sway with many.
But Dominic Elliott, CTO of service provider and media at Cisco UK, told European Communications that DSL could not be relied upon forever.
“The mix of strategies in play is dependant on the market or nature of copper asset.
“Whichever means is used it is imperative that the service provider is capable of delivering the long-term capabilities that will be demanded.
“Ultimately the copper asset will not provide the service suite demanded in the longer term, brave decisions are required today to ensure services keep pace with demand,” he said.
As Neelie Kroes reiterated again on Tuesday, the European Commission is hopeful that her package of measures to incentivise fibre roll out will speed things along, but the word on the street at BBWF is that nothing so radical looks to be imminent.