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Next-Gen Broadband Causes New Digital Divide

Posted: 23rd Apr, 2007 By: MarkJ
Never mind the digital divide between those that have broadband and those that don't. New research from Point-Topic highlights the growing divide between those with broadband and those on something even faster (fibre etc.).

Europe, which is usually one of the top continents for faster Internet access technology, is about to be downgraded and overtaken:

In global terms, by the end of 2006, the world FTTx subscriber base had reached 30 million lines, with a year-on-year growth of 54.8%. South Korea added close to 2 million FTTx subscribers, the US grew by over 150%, China now has more than a third of all fiber subscriptions in the world. The whole of Europe meanwhile put on roughly half the number of new subscribers as North America and more than three quarters of those adds were in Russia.

In the top ten broadband nations the gulf is clear. Germany, France and the UK barely register any fiber while in China, Japan and South Korea speeds of up to 100Mbps are increasingly common.

Although the overall market share of FTTx is still low (10.7%), compared to DSL (65.7%) and cable modem (22.3%), subscriber numbers have been growing at a rate of over 10% every quarter since the beginning of 2005. Of the seven regions, North America (primarily the USA) and Asia-Pacific showed growth rates above the average of 18.8% and 14.5% respectively during Q4 2006 alone, Europe as a whole managed single digits.

The research makes for some pretty dire reading and lends an additional degree of credibility to a recent report from the 'Broadband Stakeholders Group' (here), which echoed a similar fear of falling behind.

Content (IPTV) and other value-added (VoIP etc.) services are believed to be among the key driving forces for adoption of faster broadband, something existing technology may have a hard time keeping pace with:

As a general requirement, TV-over-Broadband (TVoBB) needs at least 3Mbps bandwidth in order to deliver seamless services. High-Definition (HD) TV can require up to 8Mbps of bandwidth, so conventional ADSL services are not going to be able to accommodate the increase in demand as the already congested networks in the UK can attest.

There are a number of big investment plans to upgrade various European operator networks, such as BT's 21CN. Unfortunately many of these do not factor in fibre and ADSL2+ technology alone will not be enough to keep up, especially when many will never achieve speeds even remotely close to the headline figure.
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