The future of fiber is copper

John C. Tanner
14 Oct 2010

For at least a couple of decades now, fiber has always been envisioned as the ultimate broadband access technology. It's only become economically viable as a last-mile option in the last five years or so, but nowadays FTTx is the fastest growing fixed-broadband access technology, according to Point Topic, as well as the most talked about - especially now that the data exaflood is on the way, generated by high-def 3D video and other bandwidth-hungry data apps and services.

Meanwhile, just about every government-spawned national broadband plan either specifies FTTH as the preferred access technology, or is designed to encourage its deployment.

Little wonder the future is fiber. Unless it isn't.

And it might not be, according to a September Analysys Mason report that advises telcos to be cautious of fiber and focus on copper-based broadband.

"FTTH is often said to be 'future-proof', but the future appears to have veered off in a different direction," says report author and Analysys Mason principal analyst Rupert Wood.

Specifically, he says, while FTTH delivers super-fast data speeds, it lacks the kind of sexy service innovation seen in the wireless broadband space.

"The vague promise of future services may appeal to some early FTTH adopters, but will become increasingly ineffective as a selling point unless the rate of innovation in devices and services that are uniquely suitable for FTTH gets some new impetus from vendors and service providers," Wood insists. "The future cannot be simply plotted against increasing fixed-line bandwidth."

Meanwhile, government-funded broadband initiatives focused on fiber face budget issues in these economically uncertain times. Witness the debate in Australia where the NBN plan went from a wireless-based plan to a fiber-based plan as a result of the Labor Party winning the 2007 elections - and threatened to switch back this year if the Liberal/National Coalition won this year's elections due to concerns over the project's A$43 billion price tag.

The Analysys Mason report doesn't recommend that telcos abandon FTTH, but does advise them to focus more on copper-based broadband technologies like VDSL.

"Conditions vary between markets, but in general the business case [for FTTH] to move much beyond trials just isn't there and we are already beginning to see some scale-back," explains Wood.


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