Triple-play will boost world’s fibre diet

27 Sep 2005

The much-vaunted advent of triple-play services – the fabled fusion of voice, video and data services on a single broadband connection – will lead to a surge in demand for fibre-access equipment, says IDC. However, the impact of triple play on Ireland – which is still heavily dependent on copper-based DSL rather than cable – is far from clear.

The analysis firm says the market for fibre-access equipment will reach US$1.9bn in 2009 as users migrate to higher-speed data services and innovative new services such as internet protocol television (IPTV), high-density television (HDTV) and video-on-demand (VOD).

According to IDC, the emergence of triple play – the integration of voice, video and data services on a single broadband connection – is driving service-provider demand for more access network bandwidth. IPTV, HDTV and VOD, in particular, are driving service providers around the world to upgrade their access networks with the capacity of fiber and the equipment that goes with it.

“Fibre-access networks are the last mile technology that bring the capacity of optical fiber directly to consumers and businesses,” said Sterling Perrin, manager of IDC’s Optical Networks Research.

“Following the stagnation of optical core networking over the past few years, the fibre-access market is showing real promise and ultimately can drive a reinvestment in the core.”

In terms of technology, choices for fibre access will be drawn clearly along regional lines. US carriers will remain committed to broadband passive optical networking (BPON) technology; Japan will focus on Ethernet passive optical networking (EPON) technology; Europe and Asia (excluding Japan) will favour point-to-point Ethernet, but there will be a small mix of EPON and BPON within both of these regions. Equipment vendors hoping to maximise on fibre access market growth will play in multiple technologies, and regions, if possible, IDC predicts.

The firm also predicts the worldwide fibre-access networking market will grow at a 16.6pc compound aggregate growth rate between 2004 and 2009. It says worldwide market growth opportunity for fibre access equipment is high, especially when compared to other optical technology areas and to the DSL broadband equipment market that it claims fibre is replacing.

The potential for triple play in Ireland is far from clear. Cable TV services are at present only available in certain areas of the country through two providers: NTL and Chorus. Industry sources estimate UGC’s likely acquisition of NTL in Ireland could create a triple-play powerhouse in the country if a required investment in excess of €200m in the existing NTL network is made by the acquiring firm. NTL was acquired in May by Morgan Stanley for €325m on behalf of UGC, which already owns Chorus in Ireland. The transfer of NTL into UGC’s hands is still pending a decision by the Competition Authority.

Earlier this summer informed sources told UGC — with a war chest of €1bn for infrastructure and acquisitions — is planning to spend €200m on upgrading its cable infrastructure in Ireland to be capable of handling frequencies of up to 850MHz and beyond. By upgrading existing cable ducting to fibre cable and deploying coaxial cable capable of carrying up to 850MHz from the street to the living room, sources suggest the company could deploy broadband speeds of between 15Mbps and 30Mbps to the home, ideal for the triple play of television, broadband and voice that will define the communications market of the future.

In recent months revealed NTL Ireland is already trialling triple-play services and aspires to introduce a digital voice service for its cable subscriber base. “I can confirm we are trialling digital voice this year, but can’t say for sure if it will actually be launched this year. But ultimately triple-play is where the cable industry’s future will lie in the longer term,” NTL Ireland sales and marketing manager Mark Mohan said last May.

By John Kennedy