There are now over one million ultra-fast fibre-to-the-home subscriptions in western Europe, although much wider adoption in the short to medium term is remote, said research group Informa.
Fibre-to-the-home, or FTTH, is a type of next-generation access network technology that uses optical fibre in the last-mile connection to provide broadband services with speeds tens, even hundreds of times faster than conventional alternatives.
Although FTTH represents only 1.4% of western Europe's 79 million-plus broadband subscriptions, the nascent business models behind the networks are already having a significant impact on competition in Scandinavia, said Informa.
FTTH is most-advanced in Sweden, where the technology is used for 650,000, or over 27% of the country's 2,340,000 broadband subscriptions. Significantly, the 150 municipal networks serving these customers tend not to be owned by conventional telecoms operators, but by utilities or local authorities, Informa said.
These new-entrants tend to offer an "open access" model, whereby any third-party can provide their own-brand services over the networks.
The success of the model is likely to be further bolstered by the launch in Sweden of Europe's first scheme to co-ordinate activities around municipal networks on a national level.
To date, companies that wanted to get involved would have to negotiate deals with each project separately or on a regional basis, which has discouraged large, national operators from providing services or submitting tenders to operate the networks.
Informa said that national telecoms operators have generally committed themselves to fibre-to-the node delivery platforms. These networks use fibre for part of the last-mile connection and the traditional copper network for the final leg to the home, which generally limits commercial speeds to around up to 50mbps.
France Telecom and its domestic competitors, Iliad and Neuf Cegetel, are notable exceptions, having each begun to roll-out out FTTH in cities and suburbs across France.
Apart from France, Scandinavia and the Netherlands though, there is no immediate prospect in western Europe that FTTH services will enjoy widespread availability, said Informa.
The researcher said this is not only due to a lack of initiative from utilities and local authorities, but also because markets are dominated by incumbents and cable operators, who have no incentive to make hefty investments in brand new infrastructure.
At the recent Communications Management Association conference, UK comms regulator Ofcom said it was not convinced about FTTH as a viable widespread access system.
Ofcom is relying on BT and other providers to increase the speeds of their DSL copper-based services instead.
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