Fibre Optic Connections Boost World Broadband Users to 654.6 Million

The latest Point Topic report for Q1-2013 reveals that the total number of global broadband subscribers has grown by 2% (12.5 million) in the quarter to hit 654,600,000 (up from 643.7m in Q4-2012), which remains fairly flat but continues to be fuelled by the rollout of new superfast fibre optic (FTTH, FTTC etc.) connectivity.

Overall, world broadband subscribers saw an annual growth of nearly 8% and the East Asia region continues to have the largest share of the market (37%), which is primarily being driven by the dominance of China. Indeed East Asia also accounts for 49% of all net additions across the world.

But the real news is the way that a new generation of superfast fibre optic (FTTH/P/B) and hybrid fibre (FTTx/FTTC) technologies are continuing to add new connections and cannibalise others from the old methods of slower copper (ADSL/ADSL2+) services. It’s noted that copper services declined by 2.77m subscribers in Q1-2013 and that’s up sharply from the 415,000 lost in Q4-2012.

As a result of this the overall market share of all fibre optic technologies (hybrid and full fibre) is now 22% (up from 20.78% in Q4-2012), which puts it just ahead of cable services (e.g. Virgin Media) that have held fairly stable at around 19%.

This of course still leaves copper broadband with just over half of the whole market and the most dominant method of internet connectivity, albeit one that is clearly in a slow decline. Fibre solutions are continuing to expand and thus we’d expect to see this trend in copper decline increasing.

The United Kingdom itself is home to around 22 million fixed line broadband ISP subscribers (here), which is incidentally just a little above the 19.6 million premises or so that can now access a superfast broadband connection through fibre and cable services (dominated by BT and Virgin Media).

Point Topics report said:

“FTTx has grown much more rapidly than FTTH in the quarter. Countries posting the highest growth are Belarus, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Spain and Turkey. In particular, the United Kingdom has contributed significantly to FTTx net additions, as the incumbent BT continues the national roll-out of its VDSL [FTTC] network.”

White House report hints at increase in baseline broadband speed

High-speed broadband has become so ubiquitous in the United States that the baseline for broadband could become as high as 10 Mbps downstream, suggests a new White House report. Meanwhile, fiber-based broadband access continues to lag other media in terms of reach, even at 100-Mbps levels.

The report, “Four Years of Broadband Growth,” represents the White House’s assessment of how broadband access in the United States has improved as the result of the Obama Administration’ policies as well as significant investment from the private sector. Report authors the Office of Science and Technology Policy and The National Economic Council note that the government defines “broadband” services as 3 Mbps downstream and 768 kbps upstream – although the Federal Communications Administration uses at least 4 Mbps downstream and upstream speeds of at least 1 Mbps. However, thanks to greater penetration of wired and wireless broadband access networks, 91.4% of Americans have access to wired broadband networks that are advertised as capable of offering 10 Mbps downstream, the report authors assert. Wireless networks capable of such downstream speeds reach 81% of the U.S. population, the report adds.

“Nonetheless, we acknowledge that the country is rapidly reaching the point at which baseline broadband evaluations should increase, and might instead begin at 10 Mbps downstream. This evolving baseline reflects a growing need for increased bandwidth as more Americans use the Internet for work and to build career skills,” the authors suggest.

While the government has helped fund broadband expansion through such programs as the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, private industry has footed most of the bill for broadband access network improvements. The report says that the private sector has invested nearly $250 billion to improve wired and wireless broadband infrastructure since President Obama took office in January 2009.

The report also notes that more fiber cables have been deployed in the United States over the last two years than in any similar period since 2000, according to the FCC. That said, fiber to the home (FTTH) has a ways to go before it becomes the primary means of broadband services access. According to the report, only 19.86% of the population has access to 10-Mbps downstream services available to them via FTTH. This compares to just over 86% offered this speed via cable operators, just over 43% via DSL, and 78% via wireless.

Fiber’s support of 100 Mbps by percentage is even worse comparatively. Fiber-fed 100-Mbps services are available to only 6.79% of the U.S. population, compared with 44.22% of the population via hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks. The only data rate that FTTH dominates is 1-Gbps services, which the report says are only available via fiber cable. However, a mere 3.1% of the U.S. population has access to such services, according to the report.

BT Openreach Make New 220Mbps FTTP Broadband Product Available

BTOpenreach has today officially made its new 220Mbps (20Mbps upload) capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based ultrafast broadband service, which will eventually replace its old 110Mbps/100Mbps products, available to UK ISPs and their customers.

The new product is intended to help Openreach “streamline” their portfolio of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) products (here). It’s also intended to act as a more attractive alternative to the operators top-end 330Mbps (30Mbps uploads) service, which few ISPs have adopted due to the high cost of data capacity and less attractive pricing.

The 220Mbps service, which also supports a prioritised rate of 20Mbps, costs £92 +vat to install (engineer visit and the necessary connection kit) and its annual rental price ranges from £187.32 +vat per year if you take the Transition Product (only available in conjunction with a phone line) to £288 +vat for the standalone solution. ISPs will charge more than this as they also need to account for additional costs (e.g. value-added features) and a profit margin.

By comparison the standalone price for BT’s 110Mbps (15Mbps upload) product is £258.48 per year, which rises to £396 for their 330Mbps (20Mbps upload) solution. Unfortunately only a small number of UK premises currently have access to a native FTTP service but BT are currently rolling out a new FTTP-on-Demand (FTTPoD / FoD) product to solve that.

FoD essentially makes FTTP available to all existing FTTC (up to 80Mbps) lines, which is currently on course to cover about 66% of the UK by spring 2014. The only downside, which is sadly rather significant, is that you could end up paying thousands of pounds to have it installed (details). Suffice to say that many ISPs find this to be a confusing proposition (here).

But anybody that does have deep enough pockets could perhaps consider it to be a worthy long-term investment in the value of their home.

Telus to spend $676 million to expand fiber, rural broadband in Alberta

Telus (NYSE: TU) is expanding its fiber and rural broadband facilities in Calgary and Edmonton as part of a broader plan to spend $676 million throughout Alberta this year.

The telco will invest $121 million U.S. dollars in Calgary and $99.5 million in the Edmonton region. These investments are part of its three-year, $1.93 billion commitment made a year ago to expand services in the region.

A key piece of the new investments will be dedicated to expanding the reach of its GPON-based fiber to the premises (FTTP) Optik service, which currently provides 50 Mbps and supports its IPTV service, Optik TV.

By the end of the year, Telus said Optik TV will be built out to reach almost 90 percent of Alberta households. Telus currently has 712,000 Optik TV customers.

Telus’ IPTV moves continue to help drive broadband growth.

Similar to AT&T (NYSE: T) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Telus reported in Q1 2013 that the 16,000 new broadband Internet subscribers it added “reflect successful promotions and the pull-through effect of Optik TV sales.” The telco’s high-speed subscriber base of 1.3 million rose 85,000, or 6.8 percent year-over-year.