Gigabit access

Multiple technologies for reducing the digital divide

by Samuel BELTRAN

The race to achieve Gigabit-speed connections began a few years back, driving the emergence of multiple superfast access technologies. These networks have been deployed chiefly in urban areas, and today governments and telcos are working to bring these faster connections to remote areas. The main goal is to reduce the digital divide, in terms of both access and speed.

Growing demand for speed linked to new data uses

According to Cisco, monthly Internet traffic per user is expected to rise from 77 exabytes in 2017 to 293 exabytes in 2022, i.e. increasing by 3.8 times in those five years. Fibre is the technology best suited to meet that demand. At the start of 2019, there were 826 million FTTx subscribers worldwide, of which 72% were FTTH/B customers. IDATE DigiWorld estimates that the FTTx market could reach 1 billion subscribers by 2023.

FTTH/B is and will be the leading FTTx broadband solution by 2023, far ahead of FTTx/DOCSIS followed by VDSL

782 million subscribers in 2023

Technological choices for implementing FTTx access differ from region to region. FTTH/B is the technology of choice in Asia and Europe, with 480 million and 69 million subscribers, respectively, at the start of 2019, while FTTx/DOCSIS 3.x is the most prevalent in North America, with 76 million subscribers at the start of 2019. In a great many emerging countries, telcos and governments are working together to deploy fibre and so reduce the digital divide, by establishing digital agendas.

Asia-Pacific and Europe are the FTTx market leaders

Regional FTTx subscriber growth

Source : IDATE DigiWorld in “World FTTx markets”

An acceleration in the pace of fibre rollouts

Fibre has provided operators with a future-proof solution for rising to the Gigabit challenge, chiefly due to copper and cable network’s physical limitations when it comes to incorporating 5G. IDATE DigiWorld tallied more than 1.49 billion households passed for fibre at the start of 2019, including 861 million with FTTH/B. A figure that could rise to 1.65 billion households in 2023.

Cable companies have deployed FTTx networks not only to be able to market DOCSIS 3.x solutions, but also to diversify their service portfolio. In 2019, a number of cable companies began selling FTTH plans alongside their DOCSIS 3.x ones.

Copper network operators are also working to migrate their services to fully fibre solutions, to be able to provide customers with Gigabit speeds. Today, many of the world’s top incumbent carriers have announced the switch-off of their legacy copper network in the coming years, as a way both to optimise their networks and reduce operating costs.

Six Asian companies in the global top 10

World's top 10 FTTx players

Source : IDATE DigiWorld in “World FTTx markets”

Governments Increasingly committed to reducing the digital divide

In a great many countries, the accelerated pace of fibre development has helped bolster available connection speeds. But these ultrafast network rollouts are often confined to densely populated areas, leaving more rural areas behind and so widening the digital divide, not only with respect to access but also the connection speeds on offer.

This situation has led governments to launch superfast network rollout initiatives in rural areas, most of them through the use of public funding, network sharing agreements, national superfast rollout schemes and digital agendas. In Europe, for instance, a target of 100% superfast coverage in every EU Member State has been set for the end of 2020. Digital agendas have also been put into place in a number of countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Gigabit world at the heart of society's digital transformation

Gigabit world trends and impact

Source : IDATE DigiWorld

Fibre to supply Gigabit access in remote areas and bolster smart city development

Fibre networks represent the best option for supplying robust and reliable Gigabit-speed services. But these networks are expensive and sometimes complicated to deploy in more sparsely populated areas, even with the help of public subsidies.

5G and FWA are alternatives Gigabit solutions that are based on chiefly fibre fixed networks, and can be deployed in less densely populated areas using a profitable business model, and acceptable quality of service.

Fibre thus plays a key role not only as a link in the chain for supplying Gigabit services with other technologies, but also as a facilitator of the development of smart cities services. Gigabit networks combined with artificial intelligence enable the development of connected solutions, automated traffic management, security and energy consumption services, improving both citizens’ quality of life and making optimal use of existing resources.

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