Full fibre connections as in fibre to the home or the building is very much the way to go for Internet connections, the big stumbling block has been the cost of deployment. The UK is behind the curve and while the finger is pointed at the UK incumbent operator BT the majority of the time. The interesting fact is that in Europe at many countries have several major providers competing even where they do not have access to the incumbents infrastructure.
The above chart from the Fibre to the Home Council Europe shows actual subscribers, rather than the more usual homes passed statistic. The number of subscribers is a much better metric, as it is far to easy for telco's to claim large numbers of properties passed, but be very slow at actually connecting subscribers. What is very interesting is the proportion of FTTB versus FTTH, FTTB is very popular in cities across Europe as the costs are much lower than a full fibre deployment, the UK has been slow in exploiting this sector of the market but Hyperoptic, Magnet and others are increasing the numbers connected.
While the UK does not figure on most of the FTTH Council Europe data, if you look at the six month period for December 2011 to June 2012 we do feature, with the UK adding more homes passed than Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Though in terms of actual subscribers these countries do beat us, mainly because their fibre market is more mature in terms of marketing and existing coverage.
The FTTH Council Europe does have some data on the UK, which reveals that in the UK we have around 175,000 homes passed by FTTH/B and 13,000 subscriptions.
|UK Figures in June 2012|
The key now will be how fast can we in the UK build on these small but promising figures. While the growing number of rural fibre projects such as those from B4rn and others will make a massive difference to the local area, it is actually what Openreach does in 2013 that will be crucial. If the pricing for its Fibre on Demand product at launch is right, then we may see the full fibre subscription numbers rapidly rise, out pacing the efforts of all the other operators. This is not favouritism to Openreach, just a cold reality of the size of the Openreach footprint which means more than 11 million properties should have a full fibre option in 2013, though at a higher activation cost than the areas with dedicated FTTP from Openreach.
Much of the debate on fibre in the UK focuses on rural areas, what is not clear is whether the UK is actually behind the curve in that area, the work of IFNL, GigaClear and others in the rural parts of the UK means while the total numbers connected are low, direct comparisons for similar locations across Europe may reveal a more rosy picture than the doom and gloom that seems to be a constant feature of UK broadband lobbying.