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

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.