Cable networks could meet Europe’s Gigabit Society targets within two years

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Cable networks could help the European Commission achieve its ‘Gigabit Society’ targets eight years ahead of schedule and at a lower cost than fibre to the home (FTTH). That’s the conclusion of an independent report by the media and telecoms consultancy Communications Chambers, commissioned by media multinational Liberty Global.

The European Commission’s vision of a Gigabit Society by 2025 lays out targets of one gigabit to socio-economic sites, such as schools, hospitals and large businesses, and a minimum speed of 100Mb/s for all households, which would be upgradeable to gigabit speeds.

The report considers the fastest and most cost-effective ways of reaching the European Commission’s broadband goals, and finds that a range of technologies – such as G.Fast close to the end user, fibre-to-the-building or premises, DOCSIS and FTTH – are capable of meeting the 2025 targets.

In the case of hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks using DOCSIS 3.1 technology, gigabit speeds could be achieved as early as the end of 2017, eight years ahead of schedule and at a lower cost than FTTP, the report claims.

Robert Kenny, founder of Communications Chambers and co-author of the report, said: “Thanks to investment already under way by cable operators, gigabit broadband will be available to roughly half the premises in Europe by 2018 – far ahead of the Commission's target of 2025. This will allow the Commission (and member states) to focus elsewhere, where interventions are necessary.”

FTTP and DOCSIS 3.1 aren’t mutually exclusive technologies – see our report Cable Conundrum, which describes the options for cable operators looking to upgrade their networks. Indeed, cable operators often opt to roll out pure fibre networks in Greenfield deployments (see Virgin Media doubles fibre to the premises target).

However, DOCSIS 3.1 over existing HFC networks is in principle a cheap upgrade; Liberty Global expects it to cost $22 (€20) per home, according to the report. These low costs mean that DOCSIS 3.1 is likely to see widespread deployment without any need for government support.

The report also warns that an over-prescriptive policy focussed solely on FTTP risks jeopardising future broadband investment. “The wrong intervention could be wasteful, or even damaging. For example, support for an expensive and slow-to-deploy technology could drive up prices and paralyse investment in other technologies which might have delivered improved performance more quickly,” Kenny asserts.

He cites the situation in Australia, where the government’s original FTTP strategy – later transmuted to a mixed technology approach – “paralysed investments” by commercial operators in alternative broadband technologies in the short to medium term.

The report also points out that connectivity alone is not enough: “Korea and Japan’s substantial government interventions to support FTTP have been disappointing. Both countries have performed relatively poorly in their use of socially or economically valuable internet applications, such as e-government and e-health, despite their superior (and expensive) infrastructure,” the authors wrote.

The report is being launched alongside a new initiative by Liberty Global, called GIGAWorld, which outlines Liberty Global’s plans to bring gigabit internet speeds to the 12 European countries in which it operates under the consumer brands Virgin Media, Ziggo, Unitymedia, Telenet and UPC.

Mike Fries, Liberty Global’s CEO, said: “Our scale, commitment and ambitious plans to invest in the infrastructure of our age make us perfect partners to deliver the EU’s vision of a Gigabit Society. Today our fibre-rich networks can connect 50 million GIGAready homes and we are currently expanding to millions more over the next few years, helping accelerate the digital revolution in Europe.”

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