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27 November 2019

5G will help cellular eat at fiber’s gigabit, WiFi on just 1%

Last week’s Cable Congress saw many cable operators bragging about gigabit speeds and paving the way to full duplex DOCSIS (10Gbps symmetrical). But new research shows that some 354m people now have access to gigabit Internet speeds, that’s 5% of the population. But then consider that 49% of the world still has no internet access whatsoever, and the reality looks severely less impressive.

It should be highlighted that this is calculated based on availability of gigabit Internet – not on the number of live gigabit connections – which is slightly misleading in itself.

One of the most interesting findings from the Gigabit Monitor study, published this week by US network measurement firm Viavi, shows that cellular technology has nibbled away at fiber’s share of the gigabit market.

Viavi projects this trend to continue as 5G networks spread like wildfire. However, the research underscores the importance of fiber as the backhaul infrastructure of choice across most cellular, cable and telecom networks – describing it as a “critical, if sometimes hidden, component for the majority of gigabit Internet providers”.

The contrast between the US and global breakdown in technology is telling. While 39.7% of gigabit launches in the US run on HFC networks, the global HFC figure is just 9.5%. This is certainly testament to DOCSIS launches. Fiber, on the other hand, dominates the global average gigabit technology, delivering 88.4% of the world’s gigabit Internet, compared to 58.8% in the US.

Perhaps a surprise finding to some – but not to us given its greater coverage – is that cellular is ahead of WiFi, as shown in the two pie charts below. Just 0.1% of global gigabit connections in the past year were delivered over WiFi connections – declining from 0.11% in 2018 down to 0.1% in 2019 – a crushing statistic for the WiFi industry. The big question is whether the arrival of WiFi 6 can turn this shrinking market share around, with theoretical max speeds of 9.6Gbps.

However, WiFi wasn’t the only access technology to lose market share. Global fiber accesses declined from 90.36% in 2018 to 88.43% in 2019. Elsewhere in the evolution of access technologies from 2018 to 2019, HFC increased from 8.63% to 9.53% over the year period, while cellular enjoyed the largest market share increase, from 0.9% to 1.94%.

In Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Moldova, Oman, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, 100% of gigabit accesses recorded in the study were delivered over fiber networks.

WiFi gigabit accesses reached the highest share in China with 10%, while HFC was highest in Malta with 100%, followed by Germany with 62.5% and Denmark 60%.

Naturally, the US leads the pack with gigabit internet available to 68.5m people, a rise of 4m since August 2018. China has leapfrogged South Korea (46.9m accesses) into second place with gigabit internet available to 61.5m people, surging massively by 41m in a year, although this is relative at just 4.5% of China’s population. That pales in comparison to Singapore where 95% of the population has access to gigabit speeds.

Spain is top dog in Europe with 30.1m gigabit accesses, the fourth highest worldwide, followed by Canada with 15.9m. Further results reveal that just two new countries plugged into gigabit speeds within the past 12 months, Bahrain (where 100% of gigabit accesses were over cellular) and Malaysia, a slowdown from the 8 new gigabit countries a year earlier.

Russia, Monaco, Sri Lanka were other countries found to be 100% reliant on cellular for gigabit networks.

As for Viavi itself, the company recently established a DAA Test-Ready Certification Program to allow network service providers to report problems with their cable plant. In partnership with Casa Systems, Cisco, Harmonic, Teleste, and Vecima, and ‘Silver’ partners Arris (CommScope), BKtel and Nokia.

“Not surprisingly, we are seeing a gradual shift away from wired gigabit internet provision toward wireless technologies. As commercial 5G networks are rolled out in greater numbers, the pace of this transition will escalate radically and soon reach a tipping point,” said Sameh Yamany, CTO of Viavi.