Friday, 1 March 2013

'Compelling applications' for fibre - are we there yet?

Every year at about this time, the FTTH Council of Europe have their conference. They are the most enthusiastic proponents of fibre-to-the-home - they're the folks who claimed that it would be useful for remote surgery (see 0:50 of this). That's fibre to the home we're talking about ...

Anyway each year they present various assessments of the state of the European market. Part of the purpose of this (and it's a skilful bit of lobbying) is to create a sense of competition to see which country can rank highest in FTTH roll-out. The presentations have all sorts of rankings by different metrics, so almost every country can get some kind of recognition. It's like a school fĂȘte where almost every kid gets a prize. (The UK and Germany are the sulky kids who sit in the corner and won't even participate in the egg-and-spoon race).

The presentations also talk about some of the challenges that FTTH faces. Here's some disarmingly honest quotes from the Council (or their consultants) about FTTH from the last three years:

  2011: "No really compelling application that requires a fiber connection"
  2012: "No really compelling application that requires a fiber connection"
  2013: "No really compelling application yet"

Are you spotting the pattern here?

Now sometimes we're told this is a chicken-and-egg problem, that of course there aren't applications that need FTTH, because there isn't critical mass of FTTH to sustain them yet. However, according to the FTTH Council there are 107m FTTH connections around the world. Give or take, that's roughly the same as the number of basic broadband connections there were in 2003 (103m, according to the ITU).

By 2003 we had the iTunes store, Skype, streaming video, movie downloads, numerous IPTV services and many other broadband-dependent services that are critical features of the market to this day.

If 100m broadband households were more than enough to support the development of a plethora of compelling applications for basic broadband, why is it that 100m FTTH housholds don't seem to have driven any compelling applications at all?

Not only are we not there yet, it may just be the case that there's no 'there' there.

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