Fiber Access Gains on Cable for Broadband Access

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For the first time, fiber-based broadband access is expanding faster than cable: 4.2 million compared to 2.5 million subscribers were added during the first quarter, according to the analysts at Point Topic.

"It's a significant milestone for fiber-optic broadband; where it is available consumers will take fiber over other broadband technologies," said Oliver Johnson, CEO at Point Topic.

Johnson is convinced fiber will become the biggest access technology. In three to five years it will pass cable, and that it will be about 10 years before it becomes bigger than DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), he said. That is, unless something happens to make it possible for DSL to keep up with bandwidth demands.

Currently there are 42 million fiber broadband users worldwide, compared to 79.6 million cable and 238 million DSL subscribers. "DSL is adding more subscribers than fiber in absolute numbers, but not in percentage growth," said Johnson.

Users who choose fiber are also getting "more bits for their buck", according to Point Topic. The cost for fiber can get as low as US$0.50 per megabit per month, compared to US$20 for DSL and US$12 for cable, taking global averages.

The growth of fiber numbers is being driven by China (which is closing in on the U.S. in terms of the total number of subscribers), Japan and South Korea, where cable and DSL are losing subscribers to fiber. Collectively Asia amount to over 35 million subscribers, according to Point Topic.

In the U.S. and Europe fiber is having a harder time. Deploying the technology is still expensive, and incumbent operators are reluctant to share infrastructure, according to Johnson.

"Without some form of centralized funding it will be a long time before consumers in these markets get access to cheaper bandwidth," said Johnson.

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