This article was authored by Joseph Waring, and was originally posted on telecomasia.net.
China now has 155 million kilometers of laid fiber, a 13-times increase from 11 million in 2003. That represents 30% annual growth and accounts for 60% of the world total.
The country has 40 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) subscribers, which account for close to 50% of the global total of 90 million. By the end of next year, FTTH is expected to pass 200 million homes and subs will jump to 65 million.
To put those numbers in perspective, Indonesia’s government has set a fiber target of 15 million homes passed by 2014 (it hit 8.2 million in 2013).
Here in Singapore, according to the IDA, fiber now reaches 1.48 million homes and take-up of FTTH is nearly 45% of households.
Based on these numbers and the frenzy of plans for national broadband networks, many may be tempted to think fiber is taking off everywhere. But it certainly hasn’t and growth has actually slowed.
Ovum principle analyst Julie Kunstler expects the FTTH Council’s goal of hitting 500 million FTTH subs by 2020 to fall short by 190 million - that’s a huge gap.
So what’s holding it back? There are many reasons. LTE has been slowing the growth of FTTH as low-end subs are likely to shift to the wireless option. China’s government had to trim its FTTH target next year because the rapid rollout of LTE in China has impacted fiber uptake.
Wei Leping, China Telecom’s chairman of its technology steering committee, says FTTH costs have to be reduced to be competitive compared to LTE.
Wei, citing results of an in-depth study, says the cost per subscriber for LTE increases as the speed increases but the cost of FTTH is almost flat across a wide range of speeds. He said LTE is most cost-effective up to 2-4 Mbps. As a result, FTTH needs to be focused on 20-Mbps or above applications and LTE should be focused on 10-Mbps or below.
He says FTTH is well suited for cities and developed regions while LTE is able to cover whole countries in a few years.
Other factors impeding growth are advancements like vectoring and G.Fast that are pushing more bandwidth through copper and prolonging its life (and consequently making fiber less attractive).
And there is also satellite. High-speed throughput satellites (HTS), for example, has the lowest cost per megabit for some applications, according to some sources. ABS CEO Thomas Choi said this week in Singapore: “There are markets where fiber is not everywhere, and it’s expensive. So there’s huge potential to roll out HTS capacity if you can figure out how to price it for those markets.”
Another major issue is that installing FTTH in apartments and multi-dwelling units can be a challenge, which makes it expensive. And too often the business case for fiber is based on overly ambitious assumptions for the key drivers, such as subscriber uptake, ARPU and opex.
Governments, regulators, service providers and vendors need to keep in mind that there is never a one-size-fits all solution that is ideal for all, or even most, market conditions. It’s taken Australia’s NBN players far too long to figure that one out.
Wireline and wireless are of course complementary and will increasingly be so as fiber goes deeper in all networks and gets closer to the consumer while the length of the wireless portion gets shorter.
IDATE principle analyst Roland Montagne recently summed up their synergistic relationship: “The best friend of fiber is wireless.”?
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