European FTTH growth slow in 2009

European FTTH uptake, excluding Russia, remains limited to approximately 2 million households out of 13 million homes passed, as of the end of June 2009, according to a new report undertaken by Idate for the FTTH Council Europe and presented at Broadband World Forum Europe on Monday.

Many of these subscribers are in the smaller Nordic and Eastern Europe countries: None of the major EC economies has an FTTH/B subscriber penetration rate of of over 1%.

Instead, Sweden still tops the European league tables in terms of penetration with 478,900 subscribers to FTTH/B, or 10.9% of the population as of the end of June, up from 9.1% in December 2008, according to the Idate study. Norway comes second with 204,550
subscribers, or 10.2% of the population as of June 2009, up from 9.0% six months previously. Slovenia came in third with 62,000 subscribers, or 7.3% of the population.

Idate’s study covered 35 Western, Central and Eastern European countries, in addition to Russia.

In contrast Russian operators have passed 7.5 million homes with FTTB and can claim 724,000 subscribers; Vimpelcom’s Beeline is a major growth driver.

Outside Russia, municipalities and altnets lead in garnering FTTH/B subscribers, says Idate. And these customers are concentrated in a small handful of countries.

Together Sweden, Italy Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and France accounted for 84% of FTTH/B subscribers as of the end of June this year, compared to 79% at the end of 2008.

A number of factors have put a brake on FTTH/B network build in Western Europe, the FTTH Council and Idate said.

The EC has yet to give clear regulatory guidelines for next generation access networks and competition has not been strong enough to drive incumbents to make large scale investments in FTTH/B.

"Most of the time what is driving investments in fibre is competition," said Roland Montagne, head of broadband practice at Idate.

In addition, operators outside the Nordic countries, have failed to market effectively the benefits of FTTH/B.

Numericable in France, for example, has passed 4 million homes with fibre, thereby accounting for 80% of the country's 5 million homes passed with FTTH/B. However, in France only 4.7% of homes passed with FTTH/B subscribe to an FTTH/B service.

"Here there is a lack of information about the benefits [of FTTH/B]. In Nordic countries (consumers)... are informed about the benefits," said Nadia Babaali, communications director, FTTH Council.

But Numericable has had problems that have prevented a heavy marketing push, including the need to ensure the company's long-standing issues with customer service are behind it.

And Europe’s operators have had other reasons to hold back on multi-billion-Euro investments in FTTH/B.

"We have the advantage and disadvantage of a good copper network," in Europe, compared to the US, said Idate's Montagne. This means Europe's incumbents have been able to introduce a range of high-speed broadband services over existing copper networks.

This article is originally appeared on Total Telecom