Britain lags Europe on fibre to the home

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Britain lags Europe on fibre to the home

Strong incumbents, lack of competition blamed.

Britain has been labelled as having the lowest penetration of fibre-to-the-home technology in Europe, despite the Government's ambitions to have the best superfast broadband on the continent by 2015.

A mere 0.05 percent of British households currently direct connections to optical fibre broadband, according to industry organisation Fibre-to-the-Home Council Europe.

It attributed the low penetration rate to incumbent telco BT shelving its target of passing 2.5 million homes with fibre-optic connections by the end of this year. Instead, BT is now focusing on fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), maintaing direct copper connections to houses but building fibre-connected cabinets closer to the premises.

Australian shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has relied on evidence in the United Kingdom as one basis for his push for a cheaper FTTN rollout locally.

However, fibre to the cabinet can limit broadband speeds to around 100 Mbps while the typically more expensive FTTH option provides connection speeds of up to a gigabit.

The FTTH Council's communications director Nadia Babaali said the UK wasn't alone in its go-slow attitude to fast fibre-optic broadband.

Speaking to ComputerWeekly, she said Germany and other large economies in Europe were holding back on FTTH investment too as strong incumbent operators had already made substantial investments in copper networks.

The incumbents would like to keep these networks for as long as possible while they make money.

“The copper infrastructure is obsolete and the operators know it," she said.

"In countries where you have a lot of competition — for example from cable operators or from alternative operators — then the incumbents have to switch technologies, but we do not see this situation too much yet in the UK, so there is no drive from the competition."

Changes in the regulatory environment as one method to encourage faster FTTH deployment, she said.

Allowing incumbents to have exclusive access to their FTTH networks for longer periods of time before being required to allow competitors on an open access basis would improve residential fibre-optic connection penetration rates.

Asia Pacific leads FTTH league

Though Europe has been generally slow to adopt FTTH — with only 8.7 percent of homes receiving broadband that way — those countries in eastern and northern Europe are expected to reach 20 percent penetration by 2016.

Continental Europe, meanwhile, are expected to see below 10 percent penetration by that same year.

Instead, the FTTH Council suggested the Asia Pacific region had the highest fibre-optic penetration with 10.5 percent penetration.

South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong have the most subscribers per capita.

As the FTTH Council only lists those countries with over one percent of households having fibre-optic connections, Britain doesn't even make it onto the industry organisation's list currently.

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