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UK Analyst Criticises Super Expensive FTTH Broadband ISP Solutions

Monday, Feb 18th, 2013 (1:25 pm) - Score 1,402

The boss of telecoms analyst firm Point Topic, Oliver Johnson, has warned that blowing true fibre optic lines (FTTH / P) along the streets and across the fields of Europe and the United Kingdom is ultimately “super-expensive” and thus no longer the “first choice” when it comes to building new superfast broadband networks.

Johnson was speaking ahead of this week’s FTTH Conference 2013 in London, which gets underway tomorrow and typically gathers together proponents of using ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) technologies for the roll-out of Next Generation Access (NGA) networks (i.e. this takes a fibre optic cable directly to your doorstep).

True fibre optic services can deliver reliable symmetric internet service speeds of 100Mbps+ (Megabits per second) and are widely considered to be future proof. But Johnson claims that adoption of FTTH has not lived up to some expectations and the recent destruction of almost €9.2bn in extra broadband funding through the Connecting Europe Facility will make such solutions “even harder” to pursue (here).

Oliver Johnson, CEO of PointTopic, said:

Fibre all the way is superfast but it’s also super-expensive. Operators would need a level of subsidy to achieve complete coverage with fibre that’s way above any commitment the EU was prepared to make. Even if the CEF had stayed intact it was going to be shared with other solutions.

A few years ago FTTP was the first and only choice for anyone who wanted superfast broadband, now it is way back in third place and struggling to match its rivals’ growth rates. [By comparison] VDSL and Docsis 3 have gained much wider coverage because, as things are today, they are much cheaper in most circumstances. End-users still get the speeds they want, but many more get access to superfast than we could afford if we were insisting on FTTH for everyone.”

The CEF formed part of a huge effort to make superfast broadband (defined as 30Mbps+ in Europe) services available to 100% of EU households by 2020, with 50% expected to be put within reach of 100Mbps+ connectivity. But Johnson argues that even this wouldn’t have been enough for a true FTTH roll-out (some earlier estimates suggested that the UK alone would need £20bn-£30bn to make FTTH available to 100%).

Johnson notes that DOCSIS3 cable (e.g. Virgin Media) and hybrid-fibre VDSL (FTTC) solutions both now “play a much bigger part” than FTTH in delivering superfast broadband to EU and UK homes. Point Topic’s study shows that, by the end of 2011, 58% of UK homes could buy 30Mbps broadband or better if they wanted (i.e. mostly through cable and FTTC). The comparable figures for France and Sweden, two countries often compared with the UK to its disadvantage, were 39% and 51% coverage respectively.

The analyst suggests that the “whole market will be better off” if FTTH, FTTC and DOCSIS3 are able to “play their full part“. Similarly some operators, such as BT, will from this spring allow customers with FTTC capable lines to have FTTP installed (FTTP on Demand) but you’ll have to pay the huge £1,000+ installation charge yourself.

Meanwhile critics of FTTC note that it’s a less reliable distance dependent technology (i.e. reliant on existing copper wires for the “last mile” run into homes) and in the real world often won’t deliver the best speeds that all consumers want. However BT still believes that 90% of the UK could get speeds of at least 25Mbps, provided the lion’s share of around £1bn in public funding is whisked its way (almost certain to happen).

Others point out that hybrid solutions are useful as medium term solutions but could ultimately cost more as operators may eventually have to come back and do full FTTH. But the average Joe or Jane don’t usually care how their service is delivered, at least they won’t until the day comes when 25-30Mbps begins to seem slow. In the meantime operators are already working out new ways to extend the reach and performance of FTTC even further but then so too are FTTH providers.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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