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Fibre To The Home - Price & Bandwidth

Posted: 26th Jan, 2006 By: MarkJ
This week has seen the annual Fibre To The Home (FTTH) conference taking place in Vienna. Much of it has been rather technical, although the latest piece has proved interesting because it looks at bandwidth, rural coverage and broadband pricing.

For those that haven't been keeping up, FTTH has long been billed as the next-generation of broadband Internet access (after ADSL has had its day at least). In essence, replacing those old copper telephone wires with an Ethernet style connection:

Global broadband rollout has been patchy, opening up digital divides both between and within nations. The divide applies equally to price as well as bandwidth – indeed the people paying the most tend to receive the least. Delegates at the FTTH (Fibre To The Home) Council Europe conference in Vienna, heard some speakers gloat over their bandwidth allocation over all-fibre networks.

Ericsson’s senior specialist for Ethernet broadband architecture Hans Mickelsson admitted to paying just 50€ per month for his 100 Mbps FTTH service. Yet within the UK, delegates from rural areas just within the reach of ADSL services were paying almost this month for just 1 Mbps, 100 times less. But move up to the big UK cities, and the going rate is 8 Mbps for around 25€. At the FTTH Council Europe conference, the European Union’s Director General for Information Society and Media Lucilla Sioli drew attention to this internal digital divide, although she pointed out that the EU’s most urgent mission on this front was in the Accession countries such as Romania, where 40% of the population have no telecoms service at all. These would be first in the queue for allocations of the EU’s structural funds for telecoms projects.

But the digital divide within nations is caused not just by technological factors such as distance from the nearest exchange, but also competitive ones, according to Sioli. In rural regions there is less choice, with the only broadband option often coming from the incumbent operator, who is then able to artificially restrict bandwidth and then charge extra for users who want more. Sioli believed that the greater competition encouraged by FTTH networks operating with an Open Access model allowing different service providers to participate, would help even up the digital divide.

Meanwhile Taylor Reynolds from the OECD drew delegates’ attention to the digital divide between nations. It was no coincidence that Japan, which is investing heavily on FTTH deployment, currently has the largest price per Mbps of the leading nations. It was important for countries and Europe as a whole to act to bridge this divide as soon as possible for the sake of their overall competitiveness.

The big argument in favour of FTTH as the solution for healing the digital divide is its support for high upstream as well as downstream bandwidth. Reynolds pointed out that ADSL provided on average 7 Mbps downstream, but only 700 Kbps upstream. Cable TV networks based on hybrid fibre coax (HFC) access loops were similar, averaging 7.5 Mbps downstream and 700 Kbps upstream. However fledgling FTTH networks delivered much more, and without bias one way or the other, averaging around 55 Mbps in both directions, with the potential to scale up to 1 Gbps.

So while ADSL and cable might offer adequate downstream bandwidth for many subscribers, they could not cope with emerging peer to peer applications such as personal broadcasting.

Eagle eyed reader’s will no doubt spot the missing mention of anything related to download (data) caps. There are more dimensions to a service than speed and coverage, it’s a pity such reports don’t factor this in.

Sadly it could be awhile before we see a strong FTTH or similar technology making strong inroads into the UK. BT does have plans under its 21CN project, although full national coverage is another thing entirely.
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