Fibre doesn’t need 5G, but 5G certainly needs fibre.
Ireland and the UK still rank very low in the European fibre broadband rankings, with the UK at the bottom of the heap.
That’s according to the latest figures from the FTTH Council, which held a conference in Amsterdam last week.
‘At 4Site we want to drive a gigabit society. It doesn’t matter what the technology is to get there. We believe a combination of fibre and wireless will enable this’
– RAY O’CONNOR
Last year, Ireland joined the global rankings for fibre to the home (FTTH) as part of the market panorama at more than 1pc. This year Ireland has seen fibre penetration grow to 3.8pc.
Latvia topped the league with a 50.3pc penetration of fibre, followed by Lithuania (46.8pc), Spain (44pc) and Sweden (43.6pc).
Low take-up of available fibre
However, Ireland and the UK are trailing close to the bottom, with Ireland achieving a 3.8pc penetration and the UK just scoring 1.5pc.
According to network infrastructure provider 4Site, out of 1.8m households in Ireland, just 69,000 are currently subscribing to FTTH services. It estimates that 23pc of all households – 414,000 – currently have fibre available to them through players such as Siro, Virgin and Eir.
“17pc of households that have FTTH available to them have taken it up,” explained 4Site chief commercial officer Ray O’Connor, who attended the FTTH conference in Amsterdam recently.
O’Connor pointed out that the big news was the UK joining the global rankings after surpassing 1.5pc fibre penetration.
But he warned that there is still some work to be done. “The take-up rate in Ireland and the UK is still low. The EU average is 36pc. Spain has over 40pc penetration rate. Italy has the higher growth in homes passed, at 43.1pc.
“UAE, Qatar and Singapore are the global leaders in fibre to the premises, with over 90pc penetration rate.”
O’Connor said that it’s a given that FTTH is only going to increase and that wireless and fibre infrastructure complement each other.
Key developments to watch include the gradual switch-off of traditional copper infrastructure, as investors, regulators and planners are thinking even further down the line.
Betting on the Gs
“Investors are not just thinking about 1G, they are now planning for 10G. 5G and fibre complement each other and convergence is key.”
O’Connor said that different countries and operators around Europe are using different strategies to expedite the roll-out and take-up of fibre.
“Wholesale-only companies like Siro in Ireland are good examples of a way to increase the take-up. Countries like the UK are also applying this strategy, with disrupters like CityFibre and Hyperoptic challenging Openreach to roll out a gigabit society. That strategy is expected to influence a huge growth rate over the coming years.
“Having said that, Ireland and the UK have a lower-than-average FTTH homes passed and subscription rate.”
O’Connor said that 5G will not be a silver bullet for connectivity woes and that fibre infrastructure will remain key, especially for 5G to grow.
“There was much talk of how fibre will work with the nascent 5G. And one of the main takeaways from the conference is that fibre is essential in the roll-out of 5G. They can work side by side, although Allison Kirkby of TDC Denmark said she doesn’t believe it complements but that it is a supplement. However, 5G does require a fibre backhaul, and no one disputes that. Fibre can exist without 5G, but the reverse is not possible.”
Returning to the take-up of fibre, O’Connor said that pricing will be essential.
“I spoke to some of my European peers. In France, triple-play costs €10; Netherlands costs approximately €30. It varies widely depending which EU country you are in. The fact is that consumers use so much more data than a few years ago, but are not willing to pay any extra.”
O’Connor said that copper switch-off is inevitable but even dismantling or switching out infrastructure on poles will cost money.
“Fibre is 10 times more stable than copper,” he said, adding that big investors are willing to invest in infrastructure builds.
“At 4Site we want to drive a gigabit society. It doesn’t matter what the technology is to get there. We believe a combination of fibre and wireless will enable this,” O’Connor said.
Updated, 11.27am, 25 March 2019: This article was updated to correct a figure to clarify that Sweden has a 43.6pc FTTH penetration rate, not 40pc.