Sunday, October 10, 2010

HFC: lines are 97% fiber, but route km just 6%

Claims from the cable industry concerning the amount of fiber in their networks (97%) are realistic and unrealistic at the same time. It all depends on your perspective. If you are an end-user, the claim is defensible. If you own the network and think in terms of route kilometers, you will agree that it's not, because just 20% is fiber (source: FTTH Platform NL). In reality, this number is even worse and closer to just 6% (an informed source tells me).

End-user perspective
Cable operators in the Netherlands claim that 97% of their network is fiber. This would be the portion of the network (line) between your home and the Internet. The last mile is on average 300 meters (in the Netherlands). If the signal travels over non-fiber, this may function as a bottleneck, but over short distances like these (or 90 meters in early FTTH deployments, which were in fact FTTC) its doesn't really matter that much. In fact, in-home networking at 10 meters can be just as much as of a bottleneck.

Once this bottleneck needs to be taken out, fiber needs to be extended to let's say the home's WiFi router. And an interesting argument for this is gaining importance: the number of connected devices (directly or via WiFi) is exploding:
  • Computer (desktop, laptop)
  • Connected TV, hybrid STB
  • Blu-ray player
  • Game console
  • Smartphone, iPhone
  • LiveView (Sony Ericsson's new 'data pager')
  • E-reader, Kindle, Nook
  • iPad, notebook, tablet, netbook, smartbook, speedbook, booklet, ....
  • Femtocell
  • umi (Cisco's video calling box)
Network-owner perspective
Once the cable operator decides to extend fiber to each subscriber, he will realise that he will need to dig a lot more than just 3%. UPC NL (2,777,300 homes passed) and Ziggo (4,107,000 homes passed) would probably need to spend FTTH-like amounts of cash, say 800 EUR/home. That translates into EUR 2.2 billion for UPC and EUR 3.3 billion for Ziggo. Large sums for their controlling (Liberty Global owns UPC) and prospective (Ziggo's IPO may come in 2011) shareholders to reckon with.

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