The future of fiber is copper

John C. Tanner
14 Oct 2010

Copper innovations

It's an interesting point, considering that to date, FTTH rollouts have mainly taken off in markets where regulators have actively encouraged operators to deploy it, such as Japan, Korea and China (the three biggest FTTx markets in Asia, with China set to steal the top spot from Japan next year, according to Pyramid Research).

The wireless factor is also a key consideration. It may be years before mobile broadband is fast enough to compete with fiber speeds, but HSPA+ already boosts cellular data speeds well into ADSL2+ territory, and LTE will take it further - maybe not fiber-level speeds, but close enough for most users.

Moreover, wireless will dominate the overall broadband picture in the next few years - Ovum predicts 3.2 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide by 2015, compared to just 785 million fixed broadband subscriptions.

On the other hand, the fixed-broadband space will still grow at a CAGR of 7% in that time, Ovum adds, and mobile broadband growth generally won't come at the expense of fixed-broadband subscriptions via fixed-mobile substitution.

As for good old-fashioned DSL technology, it's not standing still either, as vendors develop techniques like DSL bonding and vectoring to milk even more data speeds out of copper.

Earlier this year, Alcatel-Lucent demonstrated a 300-Mbps connection over VDSL using "Phantom Mode" technology, which creates a "phantom" channel between two physical copper pairs, applying vectoring to eliminate the cross-talk and bonding all three pairs. And last month, Huawei Technologies showcased a 700-Mbps DSL prototype in Hong Kong using SuperMIMO technology across four twisted pairs at a distance of 400 meters.

Both technologies are at least a couple of years away from commercialization, of course. But the point is that for telcos working out their broadband access roadmap, fiber isn't necessarily the most important tool in the toolbox anymore.