The world is gravitating towards FTTx

Understanding the trends around the preference for FTTx as the technology of choice for all our broadband needs

“The needs for FTTx networks have arrived earlier than our forecasting models have predicted. Consequently, the deployment of FTTH and FTTB networks have increased significantly. Setting up a fibre based broadband network, once considered a luxury affordable to the developed world, is poised to become mainstream all over the world. FTTx is evolving on multiple fronts, be it business models, execution methodologies, operating efficiency and strategic partnerships & alliances. Technological developments sit in the middle of it all, playing the role of the enabler.

This is the 1st in a series of 3 papers on trends on FTTx, the need for their rapid adoption as well as the role of automation in hastening the deployment of FTTx networks.”

ABSTRACT

Today, the situation of FTTH across the globe is very inhomogeneous, and the status of deployment of fibre to the home and usage of standards in any country depends on the history of broadband internet access in a particular country, regional inconsistencies, local telecommunication firms, and technical issues of individuals.

Some of the main trends in the past couple of years include:
  • A decrease of nearly 7% in new connections on copper lines
  • FTTH connections increasing Y-o-Y by atleast 15%
  • China’s record setting fibre market growth; at 66% of global FTTH net additions
  • Belgium, Thailand, Argentina, Philippines, Chile and South Africa among others saw significant FTTH growth rates Q-o-Q

1 RISE OF THE BROADBAND AGE

Today’s internet-savvy consumers are demanding increased bandwidth, and triple play services are now widely accepted for a majority of people across the world. Uses of basic client bandwidth, such as peer-to-peer file sharing and e-mail, are consuming more bandwidth than most contemporary generation networks can provide. The demand for more bandwidth continues to grow at an average of 70 % compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with video-on-demand (VoD) being the biggest driving factor. Existing broadband networks are unable to uniformly cope with this surging demand. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of broadband networks across the world.
The following represents the top ten countries of the world in terms of number (million) of FTTx connections by Q2 2019
Internet has been growing at an incredible rate; many countries – including India, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Malawi have more than doubled the uptake of broadband users since 2013.

2 TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE BROADBAND AGE

The means of broadband connection include cable modem, DSL, fibre-to-the-home, other fixed (wired)-broadband, satellite broadband and terrestrial fixed wireless broadband. The following graph shows us the intensity of broadband technology adoption across the globe:
In the realm of wired broadband, two underlying technologies lead the way for data transfer over a network – copper and optical fibre. Technical developments for data transmission via copper over the past 15 years has increased bandwidth significantly. But improvement in speeds over copper wire has come at a cost: the ever-decreasing lengths of copper along which it is feasible to transmit data at that speed. Therefore, the huge copper stock in the ground can only be used for future high bandwidth connections by laying fibre closer and closer to customers and thereby decreasing the length of the copper lines employed.
Line technologies such as Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC) and Fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FTTdp) and transmission technologies such as VDSL, Vectoring, Super-Vectoring, G.fast do exactly this. Nevertheless, these are clearly intermediary solutions, designed to buy time to recover high investment costs in line technology (mainly digging), before finally rolling out Fibre-to-the-Building or even Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTB/FTTH). Another more recent development in the FTTx realm is PON or Passive Optical Network which implements a point to multipoint architecture, and it can serve multiple endpoints from a single optical fibre, through the use of unpowered splitters. PON uses passive splitters and couplers to divide up the bandwidth among the end users–typically 32 over a maximum distance of 10–20km. A fibre-based PON access network connects a large number of end users to an Access Node (AN). The main service points are:
  • Mobile network base stations
  • Subscribers in SDUs (Single Dwelling Units) or MDUs (Multi Dwelling Units)
  • Larger buildings such as schools, hospitals, businesses and government
Many internet consumers view optical fibre as the one service that is unlimited in bandwidth, and delivers the low latencies that are required for the digitally transformed services of today as well as the future.
There are increased efforts to ensure that affordable FTTH services are available for many customers, and this will positively foster global economic growth. Analysts foresee that fibre optic wires will eventually replace the infrastructure based on copper wire. The following table is a peak at the advantages of OF over Copper:
Parameter Optical Fibre Copper
Bandwidth 60 Tbps and beyond 10 Gbps
Future-Proof Evolving towards the desktop CAT7 in development
Distance 12 Miles+ @ 10,000Mbps 300 Ft. @ 1,000Mbps
Noise Immune Susceptible to EM/RFI interference, crosstalk and voltage surges
Security Nearly impossible to tap Susceptible to tapping
Handling Lightweight, thin diameter, strong pulling strength Heavy, thicker diameter, strict pulling specifications
Lifecycle 30-50 Years 5 Years
Weight/1,000 ft. 4 Lbs. 39 Lbs.
Energy Consumed 2W per User >10W per User
3 FTTX AND ITS JOURNEY
Fibre to the home is a popular integrated communication technology that uses fibre optic technology to enable faster and more effective communication. It is a passive network with no active components, and thus, it requires minimal network maintenance costs. FTTH also eliminates the need for a DC power network and provides revenue-generating services such as voice, high-speed data, video on demand, etc. It has the capability to provide enough bandwidth reliability at a low cost.
China has already established itself as a global leader in terms of countrywide FTTH uptake. Singapore has 92+ percent FTTH penetration, South Korea 77.5 percent, Hong Kong 76 percent and Malaysia nearly 23 percent.
FTTx has many different applications and use cases. Fibre optic architectures are equipped with optical fibre throughout long-distance segments of the network. Depending on how close the fibre comes to the end user, the corresponding acronym is used to denote the FTTx type viz. Fibre to the Node (FTTN), Fibre to the curb (FTTC), Fibre to the Building (FTTB), Fibre to the Home (FTTH)
- FTTN: Also known as Fibre-Deep, Fibre to the Node deployments feature optical fibre that terminates at a node that lies only a few miles from the customer.
- FTTB: In a Fibre to the Building/Fibre to the Basement deployment, optical cabling ends directly at the building. FTTB is as close as network operators can get to FTTH while still using a node architecture
- FTTH: Fibre to the Home, also known as Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP), deployment occurs when optical cabling ends directly at the individual home or business.
- FTTH Home Run: The Fibre to the Home: Home Run deployment is structured with a dedicated fibre from the central office to each home. Therefore, the data on it is exclusive to the customer. This deployment type is commonly used for small developments and rural areas
- FTTH Active Star: The Active Star deployment contains a multifibre cable leading from the central office to a local switch. Essentially, the Active Star deployment is FTTC without copper cabling at the end portion of the deployment

4 FACTORS DRIVING THE GLOBAL FTTX AGENDA

Digital transformation of the service layer has been one of the earliest drivers of FTTx across the globe. In the scope of this paper, we will limit our factors to:
- Customers’ bandwidth requirements
Bandwidth hungry use cases such as HD streaming, videogaming, etc. call for higher downlink and uplink bandwidths. These higher speeds in the neighbourhood of a few hundred Mbps to even Gbps are necessary to cope with simultaneous use of multiple devices (HDTVs, tablets, smartphones, games consoles, etc.). Lower latency is generally considered essential for real-time and cloud services. Fibre-based technologies are called “future proof” because they enable easy upgrades - an easy (and affordable) path for future technology upgrades, ensuring products remain competitive.
- Cost per FTTx customer
One of the major deterrents to FTTx adoption at scale has been the initial cost per customer with activities such as trenching and in-building or in-community costs accounting for upto 70% of the total costs. However, recent developments in technology have enabled the use of aerial fibre, sharing of existing ducts, pre-connectorised FTTH kits which significantly reduce costs of installation as well as maintenance.
- The regulatory environment
The regulatory environment can play a vital role too such as in Japan, South Korea and China where government backed initiatives have helped stimulate FTTx investment; and in the US where regulatory developments have helped boost the market. According to Alcatel-Lucent, FTTH rollout costs can be cut by up to a half if already-laid ducts are available as opposed to building an entirely new outside fibre plant from scratch
5 EXECUTION IS KEY
FTTH/B is now deployed in all major regions in the world, at different levels: FTTH/B represents a great opportunity for emerging countries where broadband is not yet widespread.
Given the high investment in terms of resources & their mobilisation combined with the complexity of quickly deploying an FTTx network, a corresponding commercial offer and its supporting enablers/operations, a robust model must be developed to drive and coordinate the venture into fibre. Success stories of the same from across the world highlight the need to rapidly adopt newer execution models and techniques over traditional practices. Some of the key initiatives across the world to have taken up the FTTx challenge are:
- Openreach program in the UK: Ultrafast full-fibre broadband to 227 rural communities across the UK, connecting 15 Mn premises by 2020
- National Ultra-Broadband Plan, Italy: Develop infrastructure to guarantee services of 100 Mbps for at least 85% of households by 2020
- National Broadband Scheme, Finland: Digital Infrastructure Strategy specifies the technology-neutral countrywide broadband objectives for 2025
- Digital India, India: To transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy with the use of Fibre broadband under Digital India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat schemes
6 LOOKING AHEAD
As a parting thought, FTTx is here and it is imperative that FTTH/B be rolled out at scale and speed, despite the uncertain standalone business case and competitive environment. The following challenges must be confronted and addressed in the course: 1) developing a strong service offering/ecosystem beyond connectivity; 2) determining the extent of network investment versus rollout to pass and connect homes; 3) defining the sales approach to drive rapid take-up; 4) right-sizing the network (technology, sites and operations), and; 5) identifying and implementing best practices through an organisation resourced with top talent and, critically, driven by an entrepreneurial mind-set.
Look out for our next paper where we will discuss the imperatives demanding rapid deployment of FTTH/B as well as some key solutions to help achieve uniform FTTx across the globe.
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