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Superfast? Not so much: VDSL and copper to dominate Europe's broadband to 2020

New technology and cost will keep copper in most of Europe's networks by 2020.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The last mile in the vast majority of Europe's broadband networks will remain copper in 2020, rather than being replaced by fibre.

Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) networks that make use of existing last mile copper will continue to dominate Europe's broadband networks, according to a report by UK broadband research firm Point Topic released on Tuesday.

The firm estimates that by 2020, FTTC and VDSL (very-high-speed digital subscriber line) technology will reach 73 percent of households in Europe. 

It also argues the technology is the best candidate to meet Europe's Digital Agenda targets of having a minimum 30Mbps broadband for all households by 2020 — firstly because it can deliver those speeds today, but also because retaining existing copper would be cheaper than laying fibre all the way to the home (FTTH).  Another element in favour of VDSL is new vectoring 'noise canceling' technology, which is expected to be available in 2014.

VDSL already covered 25 percent of Europe by the end of 2012, with VDSL deployments reaching over 45 percent of households in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, the UK, and Germany.

German carrier Deutsche Telekom is trialling vectoring technology on its VDSL and FTTC network and expected to deliver download speeds up to 100Mbps. 

The top theoretical speed could make viable to meet the other target on Europe's Digital Agenda, which is to have 50 percent of subscribers on a 100Mbps service by 2020. 

Vectoring may however introduce regulatory issues due to the "practical impossibility" of unbundling VDSL services where vectoring is present, according to Point Topic.

Meanwhile, fibre all the way to the home (FTTH) now covers 12.3 percent of the EU while Docsis 3, used by cable TV networks, covers 39.3 percent of homes.

Despite heavy campaigning in Europe for fibre to the home (FTTH) rollouts, its higher relative cost and and improvements in VDSL technology will keep it bay, according to the firm, which sees little immediate growth for FTTH. The firm forecasts FTTP will cover 16 percent of households by 2020, but notes that it may grow to 21 percent. 

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Share of fixed broadband networks in Europe. Credit: Point Topic.
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