FTTP leads the charge as global broadband blasts past 1bn subs

Two interesting yet conflicting sets of global broadband market research arrived within a month of each other – one forecasting a global subscriber base of 1 billion before the close of 2019 while a more optimistic outlook saw the market surpassing the 1 billion mark back in October 2018. But despite some timeframe differences, common ground is found on the basis that the fiber broadband market is flourishing.

Research firm Kagan is behind the former, publishing results this week showing 974.7 million global broadband subscribers at the end of 2018, rising to 1 billion by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, a forecast from the Broadband Forum and Point Topic delivered last month projects 1.2 billion fixed broadband subscribers by 2025 after blasting past 1 billion six months ago. Both emphasized the growth of fiber as a crucial driver, yet we feel each missed a trick with little mention of going for the jugular by looking into 1 Gbps broadband lines, as our research arm Rethink TV did earlier this year.

Let’s dive into the most recent report first, with Kagan reporting FTTP (fiber to the premises) growth of 13.8% last year, the fastest of any broadband network type – driving global FTTP market share up to 51.4% at the end of 2018, having already surpassed DSL back in 2016.

By region, Kagan says the broadband behemoth of China boasted a frankly outrageous market share of 40.1% as of the end of 2018, driven by huge investments in FTTP infrastructure through the Broadband China project. Impressive growth has also been observed elsewhere across Asia Pacific, just nothing on China’s scale, which now accounts for 74.4% of broadband subscribers in the entire Asia Pacific. If we throw in some Rethink TV data to provide some additional color, we see China improving its broadband monumentally by taking 1 Gbps subscribers from 4% of its 456 million households in 2018, to close to over 42% by 2023, in a series of massive build-outs led by China Mobile.

The US in second place ended last year with a global broadband market share of 10.3%, according to Kagan. Rethink TV sees countries like the US, Japan, France and South Korea taking up advanced positions in 1 Gbps broadband, while laggards in percentage terms will include the UK, Germany and much of Latin America.

As for penetration, Kagan puts Singapore on top spot with over 100%, but while FTTP might be the world’s dominant form of fixed broadband globally thanks to China’s lead, DSL remains the dominant technology in Western Europe and MENA, while cable continues to be the most popular access network in North America and Latin America.

So, it was hardly a surprise then to see a similar report emblazoned with the Broadband Forum’s branding offering an even more optimistic outlook just last month, with the non-profit consortium commissioning market intelligence firm Point Topic for the job – counting 1.2 billion broadband lines by 2025.

The report says wireless-wireline convergence is one of the key growth drivers. Of course, IoT applications in most homes, will do no harm either. It was only last October that Point Topic claimed the world has moved up to 1 billion global fixed broadband subscribers, and it has since added another layer of detail.

There is a lot of deep-fiber deployment, as well as accelerating broadband penetration in developing countries and these between them are the engine of broadband growth through 2025.

Some element of fiber will be used by 59% of fixed broadband subscribers globally by 2025, according to Point Topic. The report also suggests that as many as 1 billion subscribers could blend wireless and fixed subscriptions using 5G – we’re not so sure as the only 5G fixed wireless launched so far at Verizon Wireless in the US seems to have sunk without trace, but it is early days as yet.

The report does acknowledge the OTT role in all of this, among other things. “With 5G on the horizon and new IoT devices and OTT services increasingly becoming a part of subscribers’ everyday lives, this new analysis looks at how the fixed broadband market and the technologies within it are evolving to meet this demand,” said Oliver Johnson, CEO at Point Topic.

Overall, 89% of the predicted 1.2 billion subscribers in 2025 will come from the current top 30 broadband markets says Point Topic and even in these established markets fixed broadband adoption will grow by 22%. By contrast, the key developing economies include Indonesia, Thailand and Mexico and these will see growth rates in excess of 24%.

Between 2018 and 2025, fiber-based connections will grow by 51% with fiber to the curb VDSL up by 28%. ADSL broadband will plummet 39% and both the satellite market for broadband and White Spaces technology will both begin to register significant numbers.

Point Topic says that meshed WiFi and advanced services will also be key to continued growth and the Broadband Forum identifies its Broadband Quality Experience Delivered (Broadband QED) initiative and User Services Platform as enablers for operators to manage connected home devices.

The Broadband Forum also points to new standards it has published such as the Dynamic Bandwidth Assignment (DBA) function in optical access systems and the industry’s first WiFi performance test standard as smoothing the way.