The number of households in Ireland using fibre broadband has increased from 2.8 per cent to 3.8 per cent this year, according to the latest figures from the FTTH Council. Last year, in the first year of joining, Ireland had a ranking of 1.7 per cent, as part of the FTTH Market Panorama. With approximately 1.8 million households in Ireland, 69,000 are fibre infrastructure (FTTH) subscribers – in other words, nearly 17 per cent of all Irish households subscribe. The Market Panorama includes countries of +200k households of which FTTH/B subscribers represent at least one per cent of total households. "Based on the above figures, it would seem that there is no real mass market appeal for fibre to the home, right now, said Niall Looney, operations director, 4site Networks, Limerick. "However, the very same was said for electricity when introduced in the 1940s. ESB projected the take-up to be 30 per cent - it reached 60 per cent. Today it is a utility few could do without. And we expect superfast broadband to be the same.

'A market share of less than 4% is not enough'

"While we are headed in the right direction, a market share of less than four per cent is not enough. Ireland and the UK still rank lower than the EU28 average which stands at 38.2 per cent, while leading the way globally are the UAE, Qatar and Singapore, with more than a 90 per cent market share." At the FTTH Council of Europe Annual Conference, which took place in Amsterdam last month, SIRO was named as a leader in the wholesale-only fibre network builders that achieve rapid take-up. Countries like the UK are also applying this strategy, with disruptors like CityFibre and Hyperoptic challenging Openreach to roll out a gigabit society. That strategy is expected to underpin a huge growth rate over the coming years. It’s evident that Irish operators are now acting fast to turn Ireland into a gigabit society, with Eir recently investing €500 million, said Looney. Siro is transforming more than 50 regional towns and his helping to enable Ireland’s Gigabit Society. While Imagine and Cignal may not be offering FTTH, their wireless alternative is helping to drive this digital society, he added. Growth prospects for fibre appears to be promising due to: • Demand for data and bandwidth continues to grow steadily, pushing operators towards FTTH technologies; • Public authorities, via subsidies and an investment-friendly regulatory framework will participate actively in fibre enhancement throughout Europe; • Many incumbents are shifting business models to focus on FTTH rather than copper-based technologies; • Mutualised networks as well as sharing agreements tend to push FTTH development; • Technology innovation to help lower costs; • Fibre densification driven by 5G deployment and cost savings from fibre-5G convergence. These are key strategies that Ireland could implement to increase the adoption rate: "For example, take 'Copper Switch Off' which the FTTH Council conducted a detailed study. "Switching from copper to FTTH delivers benefits to both consumers and operators while improving the business case for FTTH. In Australia, copper switch-off began in 2014 in conjunction with the deployment of the NBN, and acquisition by the NBN Co of Teltra’s copper and cable network. "In 2018, Verizon announced that it would phase out copper for FTTH across six US states. This would involve customers been migrated over by a technician, with no change to voice prices and a special offer for fibre-based broadband (Fios).

Europe slow to switch off copper

"Despite having several countries with extensive fibre coverage, Europe has been slow to switch off copper. Of the countries studied by the FTTH Council, the leading country for copper switch-off was Estonia with 70 per cent of copper exchanges closed in 2018. "Incumbent Telia completed the PSTN switch-off process in July 2017 (two-and-a-half years after the programme started). All ADSL connections will be switched off by the end of 2020 – moving to 50 per cent fibre, 40 per cent FTTC/ and 10 per cent fixed mobile. "Telia expects to benefit from lower fault rates and increased consumer satisfaction as well as considerable energy and space saving. "However, there is limited progress towards copper switch-off across the rest of Europe with more focus on PSTN switch-off (a prerequisite for copper switch-off). The reasons for the limited switch-off plans are diverse. In some countries FTTH has yet to be widely deployed. "In others, strict controls on exchange closure may be delaying the process. A lack of understanding around the benefits of fibre and challenges in switching to a fibre operator may also be hampering consumers from making the change. "Member states and regulators could act to enable PSTN switch-off, remove regulatory barriers and ensure that consumers are informed about which offers are based on full fibre, and its benefits," said Looney. The Market Panorama report also recommends public involvement: • Public-private initiatives: more and more involvement from public authorities (via subsidies and an adequate policy framework) to promote fibre expansion throughout their country; • Progressive move towards fibre expansion in hard-to-reach areas: urban dense areas are well covered by fibre networks in Europe, so the focus for public and private actors is now on remote areas. While fibre might be seen as the future of broadband, there remains challenges: • Many challenges for FTTH: Strong competition from other evolving technologies such as evolved copper-based technologies (ex. G.Fast), cable-based infrastructure (DOCSIS 3.x) and FWA • Impacts of 5G: FTTH will be challenged by future 5G technology, which is capable of delivering gigabit speeds for end users. On the one hand, it could be a serious substitute to FTTH in the fixed residential market. Moreover, 5G core infrastructure will need fibre to be implemented.