Around the world in ... Fibre-to-the-home

Around the world in ... Fibre-to-the-home

Summary: If the world's homes are to enjoy the same high speed connectivity as its offices, the current thinking goes, then fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) will soon become necessary. However, not all Internet economies were created equal.


If homes are to enjoy the same high speed connectivity as offices then fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) will soon become necessary. Unlike copper wire -- the traditional connectivity backhaul -- fibre can exponentially increase the bandwidth delivered directly to consumers with only minor equipment upgrades.

While few market watchers debate the need for greater bandwidth, the pace of deployments around the world remains varied, as consumers, telcos and governments continue to wrestle over who should foot the bill for FTTH deployments.

Asia Pacific
As with most advanced forms of connectivity, fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) has taken off most significantly in Japan: in a recent ranking, 21.2 percent of homes in Hong Kong were found to be wired with FTTH, followed by South Korea at 19.6 percent and Japan at 16.3 percent.

In Japan, FTTH often provides a 100Mbps connection for less money than Australians pay for a connection one-tenth as fast. Japan seems to be the only country where DSL subscriber numbers are decreasing, as more and more consumers switch to fibre. Positive intervention from the country's government is largely credited with helping the spread of fibre.

Fibre first made a significant mark in Japan in 2001, following the creation of the e-Japan strategy which aimed to get 10 million households on 100Mbps by 2005 and 30 million on 10Mbps. Moves by the communications watchdog to curb the price of unbundled local loop access also helped drive adoption.

However, fibre-to-the-home remains most common in urban areas, where dense population concentrations, particularly in flat blocks, help the economics of rolling out fibre.

The Korean government is also credited by analysts with encouraging fibre deployments by means of incentives for ISPs.

With a 100Mbps fat pipe at their disposal, users in the region have taken to gaming and, to a less extent, IPTV and video-on-demand.

Take-up in Europe varies from country to country, although the most significant movement to date have taken place in the Scandinavian countries and, latterly, France and the Netherlands.

Current estimates put the number of subscribers across the continent at around one million, with Sweden leading the way with some 27 percent of subscribers.

Much of the progress on fibre is not coming from the incumbent telcos, rather, local authorities or utilities companies are behind developments -- Stockholm's fibre to the node being a case in point, with a dark fibre network owned by the municipality itself.

Amsterdam local council's CityNet project is expected to provide fibre to over 420,000 homes and businesses by 2013. The first phase of the project, which will cover 40,000 premises, is on track to be completed in 2008.

France has also taken to the technology. ISP Free has already hit over 160,000 homes with its fibre network, while incumbent France Telecom is planning its own deployment to 200,000 homes in the French capital by the end of the year.

The UK's incumbent, BT, has been reluctant to adopt fibre-to-the-home, claiming the numbers don't stack up and government intervention is needed for full-scale deployment.

Despite trials of the technology in greenfield sites, BT said plans for fibre-to-the-home have been put on ice as a result of investment in its IP backbone, known as 21CN.

However, the country's regulator, Ofcom, and UK competitiveness minister Stephen Timms have backed a move to FTTH.

Much of the debate around fibre in Australia remains around fibre to the node, with both the Coalition and Labor planning to authorise rollouts in the near future -- should they be elected.

Labor's communications spokesperson Stephen Conroy has previously lent his support to a FTTH rollout although the costs involved in such a move remain prohibitive, according to the Opposition senator.

Fibre-to-the-home, however, has seen some limited success on a regional level.

TransACT, for example, has recently announced a greenfield deployment in Forde, the Gungahlin district of Canberra, which will connect around 1,500 homes.

The Victorian government has also been instrumental in seeing a fibre experiment go live in Epping North, covering 8,000 homes. In the Aurora development, FTTH customers get access to 100Mbps Internet access, broadcast cable television, interactive two-way video-based services as well as VoIP.

Telstra, too, has experimented with some fibre in new builds -- often in association with property developers -- and now has agreements for 30 locations in place. As part of the FTTH packages, users can expect the usual high-speed broadband and home phone but also pay-TV services.

Perth and Tasmania have also seen small scale FTTH rollouts, with involvement from local utilities.

However, a full-scale nationwide deployment is unlikely. According to Telstra, the company is only considering FTTH in "new greenfield estates where there is appropriate investment by the developer, and Telstra can make a commercial return on its investment".

Greenfield sites are typically the test beds for Australian FTTH rollouts, as installing the necessary infrastructure while estates are built is far cheaper than retrofitting it into existing residences.

Topics: Telcos, Broadband, Telstra, Tech Industry

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  • FTTC may be best consideration

    FTTH (Fibre to the Home) is ultimately the best solution, no doubt. Laying fibre down every major conduit, to every street cabinet, to every house.. is expensive.

    The FTTN (Fibre to the Node) developments are far less ambitious and far cheaper. They plan to only put Fibre to major nodes, and redirecting copper to those nodes so that the copper run is always less than 1.5kms.

    FTTC (Fibre to the Curb) seems to be a good compromise between the 2. The fibre is run to within 500m of homes, but existing copper is used for the last run.
    1) Fibre is run to the street cabinets - so there is alot more fibre (higher cost, but fibre is reusable for FTTH later)
    2) The copper is not redirected, just used at the street cabinet level (lower cost, and copper redirection is not wasted when FTTH happens later)
    3) The short run makes VDSL2 quite feasible at 50-100Mbps or higher (Note that the short run is great, but there are many more nodes, which although smaller will still more expensive in total)
    4) By not using the lower ADSL frequencies, existing providers can continue to use exchange based hardware without any problems (competition is retained on the 1.5->20Mbps current connections)

    It just seems to be that spending a little more could make us far more ready for the future. A FTTC model could even potentially offer FTTH side by side (for any new installation willing to pay for fibre from the curbside node to their home).
  • Pointless Speed

    What's the point of super fast internet when data limits are so low?

    With this speed of internet you could use your entire monthly download limit in less than 10 minutes.
    Internet in Australia will always be behind the rest of the world while people have to curb their usage because of restrictive download limits.
    People will only embrace the net 100% when they can pay a flat fee, get reasonable speed and use it as much as they want.
  • Not addressing the issue

    Guys, everyone is crying out that fast internet is crucial to australia's business growth. In addition to this everyone thinks fast internet can only be enabled by better infrastructure. I licken it to this analogy, if u want ure car to go faster, do u build a bigger highway. Focus should be developed into more faster, efficient code, compression and decompression technology, not bigger pipe. No one has done a realistic study on what the actual benefits of faster internet is to the public. We've lived for centuries without it, why is it such a big issue now. Instead of email, why don't we get off our butts and talk to the person!
  • FTTH still far cheaper than other services

    Fibre to the home is expensive nut in adjusted dollars it is still far cheaper than all other major services that pass the typical suburban home, be they roads, sewer, stormwater, gas, water, power and even copper phone service. So to say FTTH costs to much is to imply that we can not afford to pay for all those service. It is not FTTH that is expensive, a lie, it is writing off the existing copper service that is expensive. So does Australia wan a 21st century communications service or a primitive degrading 19th service.
  • Good thinking

    You are right with your comments but due to population density levels even a FTTN solution would mean a basic service will retail at $80-$100 and more features or allowances will just increase this. Australian's are flocking to sub $30 services and would be unlikely to want to pay $50 more each month for greater speeds let alone $200 more for FTTC or $300 more for FTTH.
  • It must be said - publish & be damned

    "..We've lived for centuries without it, why is it such a big issue now. .."

    __Obviously the last Liberal voter left.

    Well, we lived for centuries without flush toilets too, but we where up to our arse in poo.

    ".. Focus should be developed into more faster, efficient code, compression and decompression technology, not bigger pipe. .."

    So you're saying we should find a more economical way to crap, rather that have a toilet.