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Who Leads the Fiber Revolution? - An Update

A recent survey, jointly published earlier this year by the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Councils of Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, tells the tale: Sweden as an economy, is only 4th in the world in FTTH deployment, trailing Hong-Kong, South Korea, and Japan.

Possibly the firmest bridge across the digital divide is built by fine strands of light that serve up the digital universe in micro-seconds. And what better way to build it than bringing fiber all the way to the home?

Still, only a few years ago, ubiquitous "Fiber to the Home" (FTTH) was more a glint in someone's eye than around-the-corner reality. Something gamers and fiber manufacturers dreamed about.

A 2006 summer-visit to my native Sweden gave me cause to reconsider.

The Thousand Mile Trench
Driving north from Stockholm, along much of E4-the highway traversing Europe from Lisbon to Helsinki, and which is Sweden's main south to north artery-all I saw was excavators and tractors busy at work trenching by the side of the road, while other heavy machinery unrolled and lowered into these trenches miles and miles of what looked like, yes-after a closer look-definitely was: fiber, spun out from gigantic wooden spools.

On arrival at my destination I asked the obvious question: What's with all the fiber? Well, what was with all the fiber was FTTH, something high on Sweden's agenda.

Instant conclusion: FTTH has graduated from glint to reality.

Global FTTH Penetration
Is Sweden an anomaly, or is the FTTH drive underway in other parts of the world as well?

A recent survey, jointly published earlier this year by the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Councils of Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, tells the tale: Sweden as an economy, is only 4th in the world in FTTH deployment, trailing Hong-Kong, South Korea, and Japan.

According to this survey, 14 countries now boast FTTH implementations to more than 1 percent of total households-meaning they are connected directly into high speed fiber optic networks (at throughput higher than 100 Mbps/Sec).

This, by the way, is the second such survey conducted by the combined councils; the original one, released last July, reflected only 11 economies exceeding the 1 percent threshold. Since then, Slovenia, Iceland and Singapore have joined this elite broadband group (see graph below).

Year-End 2007 FTTH Penetration

Fiber Revolution Graph

Top Five
As shown, the top five countries/economies are (percentage penetration of total households):

  •  South Korea - 31.4%
  •  Hong Kong - 23.4%
  •  Japan - 21.3%
  •  Sweden - 7.1%
  •  Taiwan - 6.8%

2007 - A Banner Year
Globally, 2007 was the best year yet in terms of numbers of new FTTH subscribers, thanks primarily to strong growth in Japan, China and the United States, where a combined total of nearly 6 million new FTTH households were added.

"This indicates the unrelenting vigor of the FTTH industry here in Europe-where we surpassed one million connections-and worldwide," said Joeri Van Bogaert, President of the FTTH Council Europe. "This phenomenon is driven by something that never seems to slow down, and that is the consumer appetite for ever-higher bandwidth."

The updated ranking also shows that Asian economies continue to outpace the rest of the world in terms of FTTH market penetration, with South Korea moving into the top slot with 31.4 percent of households connected, followed by Hong Kong at 23.4 percent and Japan at 21.3 percent.

A large gap separates third place Japan from fourth place Sweden, where 7.1 percent of homes are now wired with FTTH, followed closely by Taiwan at 6.8 percent and Norway at 6 percent. Denmark, at 2.5 percent occupies seventh position on the chart, slightly ahead of the United States.

"We are delighted to see the U.S. moving up in the global ranking," said Joe Savage, President of the FTTH Council North America. "The future belongs

to those countries that satisfy the broadband consumer's need for speed. Our members-the FTTH equipment vendors and the service providers-are ready to help make it happen on a wide scale across North America."

A more recent survey of the U.S. market, this one taken in March 2008, showed continued growth, and that a total of 6.4% of all households are now connected with fiber, breaking down as follows:

"In areas covered by Verizon or Tier 3 ILECs (About 1/3 of households) 5.8 percent of homes are now directly connected with fiber. Most of them are served by Telcos, but some MSO (Multiple Systems Operator) and other competition has begun.

"In areas covered by AT&T, Qwest, or Tier 2 ILECs (About 2/3 of households), only 0.6 percent of homes are directly connected with fiber, most of which are served by competitive providers, such as facilities-based CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carrier) and Munis, though Telcos have now begun to connect some new homes.

"It is no accident that Asia-Pac continues to be the fastest growing region for FTTH in the world, with more subscribers connected on fiber than all other regions combined," said Schoichi Hanatani, President of the FTTH Council Asia-Pacific. "The rollout of FTTH has been encouraged by forward-looking governments and regulators in the Asia-Pac region for several years now. They understand that FTTH is a key strategic national infrastructure."

FTTH Definition

These global rankings follow the unified definition of FTTH terms announced by the three councils last year, and which has formed the basis for recent market research by each council. For completeness and accuracy these rankings include both FTTH and FTTB (fiber-to-the-building) figures, while copper-based broadband access technologies (DSL, FTT-Curb, FTT-Node) are not included.

Sweden Leads Europe
Taking a closer look at my roots, I discovered that Sweden was indeed an early adopter of both Internet and fiber-based access with more FTTH connections than any other European country.

Almost 70 percent of Swedish households had Internet connectivity by the end of 2004, and 28 percent of these-corresponding to over 1.2 million subscribers-had broadband access.

Today, the Swedish FTTH market-thanks in large part to a $4 billion investment by the Swedish Government in fiber infrastructure, amplified by municipalities and municipally owned utilities-is the most advanced in Europe and the third most fibred nation in the world after Korea and Japan (Hong Kong is viewed as an economy rather than a country).

It is however worthy of note that around two-thirds of Sweden's primary residences are apartments, which are less costly than stand-alone houses to fiber up.

Fiber Usage
The above, however, does beg the question: With this amount of available bandwidth (100 Mbps/Sec in most of Europe, and 1 Gbps/Sec now the standard offering in South Korea), how is it used?

Stay tuned for part II.

Los Angeles-based Ulf Wolf writes for the IT industry as Words & Images (

Photo by e.res Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Ulf Wolf is a Swedish-born, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho based writer and photographer with 20 years of Telecom, CRM, and IT experience, much of which as a very hands-on call-center systems engineer for AT&T/Lucent/Avaya.