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£134bn – The Cost of Deploying Ultrafast FTTH Broadband Across EU28

Wednesday, Jan 25th, 2017 (9:52 am) - Score 2,571

The cost of deploying ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) broadband networks throughout the EU, which currently still includes the United Kingdom, has today been revised by Comsof on behalf of the FTTH Council Europe and the new estimate is £134 billion (€156bn).

Apparently the new cost model calculated the “complete overlay” of the EU28 countries with pure fibre optic broadband in a greenfield scenario (greenfield usually reflects undeveloped land in a city or rural area), which includes an outcome that would expect to see 100% of homes passed (covered) and 50% connected (subscribed / take-up).

The model claims to account for existing fibre coverage and connections (approx. 30% and 10% respectively) and suggests that the “outstanding costs of full fibre coverage” in the EU is €156 billion. According to the council, the “re-use of existing infrastructure” and effective implementation of the new Cost Reduction Directive (i.e. cutting red tape) can lead to significant cost savings and could further bring down these costs.

Ronan Kelly, President of the FTTH Council Europe, said:

“We can also see that Sweden, Spain and Portugal have FTTH coverage for instance that is over 80% – strongly suggesting that high fibre coverage can be realistically achieved. Both the EIB and Analysis Mason put the cost of a full FTTH network at between €220bn and €250bn with that number falling to €154bn with infrastructure reuse.

We need to have a realistic assessment of level of costs and their implications. Policy makers should not compromise in seeking the best networks for Europe and networks that can support 5G and next generation digital services.”

Deployment costs for pure fibre optic networks have certainly come down in recent years, not least thanks to a combination of regulatory changes (cutting red tape etc.), a stronger investment environment and more efficient / different methods of civil engineering.

However the cost does vary depending on the area and the type of network operator involved, although in UK urban locations we know that it can be as little as £500 per premise passed for some commercial providers and examples of this can be found via MS3 in Hull and Cityfibre / TalkTalk in York.

Sadly FTTH/P is often much more expensive to deliver in rural locations, where more work is required to reach a much smaller number of premises (i.e. very hard to get a viable return on the investment). On the flip side community-built providers like B4RN in Lancashire can usually get around this by asking local people to help build the network in exchange for shares.

Another challenge stems from the fact that it can still take many years to roll-out due to the need for lots of extra civil engineering work (possibly over 10 years if you intended to blanked the United Kingdom), although the longer term benefits may well outweigh this (easier / less maintenance, ultrafast speeds etc.).

In the UK we’ve seen various estimates for the cost of a near universal deployment, which tend to range from around £20bn to £30bn. As ever the huge variety in differing approaches and policy make it very difficult to peg down a precise figure. On that front it would have been good to see more detail on Comsof’s workings but apparently this won’t be released until the FTTH Conference in France on 14-16th February 2017.

The FTTH Council Europe have of course timed this to help support the European Commission’s post-2015 policy, which proposes a new ‘Gigabit Society‘ target for “all European households” to get a minimum Internet download speed of 100Mbps+ by 2025, with businesses and the public sector being told to expect 1Gbps+ (here). Knowing how much this will actually cost is of course an important aspect of the debate.

Sadly the UK is still some way behind on the FTTH/P scale and at present only around 2% of premises have access to such a service, although this is set to rise dramatically over the next few years as BT and Virgin Media’s combined efforts should put FTTH/P within reach of 4 million premises by 2020.

On top of that alternative network providers, such as Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, B4RN and Cityfibre etc., could potentially add a few million to that total and so we might see coverage of around 25-40% of premises in just a few short years’ time (estimates vary quite a bit due to the uncertainty of altnet commitments and potential for delays).

All of this is being supported by new regulation from Ofcom’s recent Strategic Review (here and here), which among other things will give rival ISPs more access to harness Openreach’s (BT) existing cable ducts. On top of that the Government has setup a new £400m Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF) that is designed to help support “full fibre” deployments from alternative network providers (here).

However none of this will be enough to achieve truly universal coverage of FTTH/P connectivity in the United Kingdom and for that we’d probably need to see billions more investment being committed from both the public and private side. On the other hand future fears over Brexit and the economy are somewhat dampening the prospect of such an outcome.

Meanwhile cheaper, but still very capable, hybrid-fibre upgrades like G.fast and DOCSIS3.1 should help to meet the short-medium term demand for faster connectivity that exists. But most do seem to agree that the longer-term future is still reflective of a move towards pure fibre optic connectivity, albeit a very slow move.

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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