February 2019 Vol. 74 No. 2


Fiber on Fire

By Jeff Griffin | Senior Editor

To no one’s surprise, deployment of fiber optic cable directly to homes in North America continues at a steady pace.

Earlier this year, the Fiber Broadband Association and research firm RVA, LLC, released its latest report which found fiber deployment reached record highs in 2018.

“In 2018, fiber surpassed DSL to become the second-most-common connection for home internet in North America, after cable,” stated the report. “In the United States, fiber now passes 41 million unique homes and connects 18.6 million homes. This is a 17-percent increase in homes passed by fiber since 2017.

The totals for North America are nearly 60 million homes and 23.8 million connections. Canada leads North American fiber deployment, with a 19-percent growth in the homes marketed in 2018.

Fiber deployment is also growing in rural areas.

“Fiber broadband in rural markets is increasing with the eff orts of rural telephone companies, small municipalities and, more recently, rural electric co-ops operating in very low-density areas,” said Mike Render, RVA president. “Fiber currently has lower penetration in rural areas than in suburban and urban areas, but rural penetration will be increasing in the next few years.”

According to Lisa Youngers, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, the fiber industry is “on fire.” Fiber, she believes, holds the key for generation connectivity – from 5G, to smart cities, to the Internet of Things.

Trending underground

Much of the new fiber is going underground.

“We estimate through surveys of small providers and estimates of large providers, that 60 percent of fiber to the home is currently underground,” Render said. “This percentage will probably increase somewhat over the next few years.”

Tier 1 providers with aerial plant often overbuild those areas first, but will increasingly use underground methods, he continued.

“Tier 2 and 3 providers without right-of-way often use underground methods both for long-term reliability, and because of the cost and difficulty of gaining pole access,” Render added. “Exceptions certainly exist, such as many rural electric co-ops, which will often use aerial methods on their own poles.”

Association research did not include how actively fiber carriers are soliciting customers at the homes passed. “We do not have information on marketing,” Render said, “but we do know that fiber is achieving high market share and take rates. Fiber is valued not only for download speeds, but also reliability, upload speeds and, for some, latency.”

How sales are being pushed varies by area.

This reporter observed that AT&T fiber passed houses in his neighborhood several months ago. However, other than sending young contract sales people door-to-door and the usual mailings, there has been little eff ort to connect new customers, and AT&T trucks connecting homes in the area are nowhere to be found.

When asked if the unstable economy is aff ecting fiber deployment, Render answered, “This is difficult to determine precisely. Fiber deployment declined between 2009 and 2011 in part because of the great recession, but much of the decline related to Verizon’s completion of its initial FTTH project in 2008. Fiber deployment has been increasing again from 2012 to 2018.”

Regarding the future, he said, “As discussed in detail in our new forecast report, we expect that fiber growth will generally continue somewhat over the next five years. But we are likely to see a dip in deployment in 2020 after an initial phase of AT&T fiber deployment is completed. Some vendors will see this decline in 2019 because of purchase-to-deployment lags.”

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