China keeps region top of broadband growth

Asia remains world's fastest-growing broadband market, thanks primarily to large subscriber base in China, reveals new study from Broadband Forum.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--Asia remains the fastest-growing region for fixed broadband worldwide, clocking a 16.2 percent year-on-year growth to hit 226.4 million subscribers in the first quarter of 2011.

According to latest figures from the Broadband Forum, Asia now accounts for 42 percent--up from 40 percent last year--of the 540 million fixed broadband subscribers worldwide. This Asian dominance is "heavily driven" by broadband subscribership in China, Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh said at a press briefing held at CommunicAsia 2011 here Tuesday.

The study was conducted by analyst group Point Topic, and commissioned by Broadband Forum, a non-profit industry consortium focused on broadband adoption.

Global fixed broadband grew about 2.9 percent in the first three months of this year to more than 15.2 million subscribers, which was the biggest quarterly increase since 2009. Worldwide, though, Asia clocked the highest quarterly growth at 3.9 percent.

The annual growth worldwide of 11.9 percent was also outpaced by Asia's 16.2 percent.

Mersh said: "We've said this for some time now…but the dramatic numbers [indicate] there's absolutely no doubt now that Asia dominates."

He pointed to China as the main factor of this strong showing, noting that the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau together contributed 42 percent of net additions to total global subscriber numbers in the first quarter of this year.

"China skews all the numbers," Mersh said after his presentation, noting strong demand for broadband as "new developments, new cities, new greenfields" continuously spring up across the country.

In the area of access technologies, fiber, including various hybrid digital subscriber line (DSL)/fiber rollouts, was the fastest growing with 20 percent increase over the past year.

DSL, nonetheless, held the biggest market share at 63.7 percent in first-quarter 2011, followed by cable at 20.3 percent, and fiber at 14.2 percent.

Mersh added that the latest numbers indicate the broadband market is "maturing but still expanding". Broadband is increasingly becoming a utility but this should not be seen as a "negative", he said.

"If you ask any telco whether they want to increase ARPU (average revenue per user), it's a no brainer…But [what about asking], do you want your service to be so sticky that people don't get rid of it when times get tough?

"If [telcos] can have a broadband pipe to deploy more services, [it's] a nice position to be in," he pointed out.

Asked if mobile broadband growth and subscribership rates in Asia would outpace that of fixed broadband, Mersh replied there is "no doubt" mobile broadband is the way to access the Internet in certain Asian markets.

He said it would be tough to make predictions on when and if this would happen, since deployments, price, completion and regulation can affect market developments. He added that the quality of user experience when accessing the Internet via fixed and mobile broadband, is comparatively different.

Europe still leads in IPTV
While Asia is in pole position in terms of broadband adoption, it is a "close second" to Europe which continues to lead in Internet Protocol television (IPTV) subscription, according to Broadband Forum.

Out of the 48.2 million IPTV subscribers worldwide, as of first-quarter 2011, Europe accounts for over 21 million, taking up almost 44 percent of total market share.

Mersh noted that IPTV has continued to "grow well", increasing 6.4 percent in the first quarter of this year, representing an "exceptional" 34 percent spike in the 12 months.

Comparing countries, France retained its number one spot from last year with 10.6 million IPTV subscribers but China is "fast catching up" from its current second placing with 9.8 million. The Asian giant surpassed last year's second-ranked United States, which currently has 7.7 million subscribers.

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