Globally, 2016 represented a tipping point for broadband access, according to market research firm Ovum. Over the year, the number of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) subscriptions surpassed DSL for the first time, growing from 297 million to 382 million.
Ovum includes all flavours of DSL in its count (including fibre to the node and cabinet), which ended the year with 298 million subscriptions, down from 326 million at the start of the year.
The data are from Ovum’s ‘Total Fixed Broadband Subscriptions and Revenue Forecast: 2016-21’ published in December 2016, which predicts that the number of subscribers on FTTP networks will keep growing steadily through 2021, at which point the technology will account for more than half of the 1.1 billion total fixed broadband subscriptions worldwide.
Fibre’s performance globally is the result of widespread FTTP roll-out in Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe, commented Kamalini Ganguly, senior analyst in Ovum's Industry, Communications and Broadband practice.
In absolute numbers, China’s FTTP subscription growth surpasses all countries by far in 2016, she reported (see also Optical upgrades in China will resonate worldwide). Countries with high penetrations of FTTP such as Japan, Korea and Russia continue to add significant FTTP subscribers every quarter. Spain, France and the US have also made significant contributions.
“What is interesting is the strong growth in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil and Australia,” she added. “In absolute numbers, they are beginning to add more per quarter than some of the traditional FTTP countries where growth is slowing. FTTP has now become much more widespread and there is a long tail of countries where smaller numbers of FTTP subscriptions continue to grow.”
Meanwhile, in Western Europe and North America, where the incumbents tend to rely on upgraded copper access infrastructure, DSL is dominant – and will remain so over the next five years, Ovum believes. The advent of G.fast, which offers fibre-like speeds over short copper loops, will revive copper’s prospects, especially in countries like the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Similarly, Ovum expects DOCSIS 3.1 to prolong the life of hybrid fibre-coax cable networks.
Although there is unlikely to be a significant shift in favour of FTTP over the current five-year forecast period, the analyst firm does expect to see continued investment in and deployment of fibre networks over this period, placing FTTP “firmly at the centre of the future wireline broadband network in all regions”, it said.
Even in the traditionally copper-based regions, however, some operators have reached their own corporate tipping points. Belgium incumbent Proximus recently announced a major FTTP roll-out – in this case to 50 per cent of households in its territory. It follows a similar announcement by Altice Group, which is planning to start rolling out FTTP in its US cable footprint, bypassing the perhaps more obvious and easier upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 in the process.
“Such announcements are not firsts and are certainly not unique … but at a time when much R&D focus is on advanced wireless technologies, they do represent a renewed commitment to wireline broadband investment that in Ovum’s view is likely to continue well beyond 2020,” Ganguly said.