The growth in the number of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) or fiber to the building (FTTB) subscribers is picking up in Europe, according to the latest figures presented at the FTTH Conference 2014 in Stockholm, Sweden. However, there is much work to be done before the region can be considered a mature market.
The total number of FTTH/B subscribers in Europe's EU28 increased by 29% in 2013 – substantially faster than the year before when growth was around 15%. In total, 13 countries in the European Union experienced growth in FTTH/B subscribers of greater than 30% over the past year, including Spain (64%), the Netherlands (43%), France, and Portugal (each 41%).
The growth rate in subscribers (29%) was greater than the increase in homes passed (22%). The FTTH Council Europe views this positively, because it indicates that FTTH is becoming more attractive to consumers. "It is good news for operators, who all need to see a better return on their investment. It is also good news for end users, because a larger subscriber base will encourage more companies to develop services and applications, and help drive down consumer prices," the organization said.
When countries outside the European Union are included – what the FTTH Council Europe calls the EU39 – the growth rate was even higher. Russia alone counts almost 9 million subscribers, of which 1.4 million were added in 2013. The largest FTTH/B markets in the European Union are France and Sweden, which exceed 1.2 million FTTH/B subscribers each, while the Ukraine has 1.3 million subscribers, and Turkey has 1.1 million.
These numbers sound impressive, but the FTTH/B market has a long way to go in many countries. According to analyst firm Heavy Reading, a country only reaches the “fiber maturity” when 20% of its households are FTTH/B subscribers. This is an important metric, because it indicates that a country has a subscriber base large enough to sustain development of new services for high-speed networks. So far only nine countries around the world have reached this threshold, and only three of them are European – namely Lithuania, Sweden and Latvia.
"We need to do more and I can't help but feel that some policy makers underestimate the danger of not getting to fiber to the home networks quickly enough," said Karin Ahl, President of the FTTH Council Europe, in her opening speech at the FTTH Conference. "The world is changing faster and faster. If we look at advanced economies like the United States, then by some measures 70% of the value of their economy is composed of firms that did not exist 30 years ago".
"In this changing world we need more than flexible labor markets and great education systems if we want to keep up. We also need the right infrastructure … If a city or a country doesn't have the right infrastructure, then investments will be made elsewhere."