The numbers from RVA Market Research are dramatic: The firm, cited in a ComputerWorld story on fiber deployment, estimates that there were more than 1 million fiber users in North America as of September.
That's almost a three-fold increase from the 332,700 subscribers at the end of last year and more than six times the 146,500 counted in 2004. The homes passed numbers -- 6.09 million in September, 2.7 million in 2005 and 970,000 in 2004 -- show the same level of growth.
In fact, it's the homes passed number that is most important. Marketers know that a good product will sell. It's just a matter of time. The key is getting it out there. It seems that the telephone industry -- led by Verizon (FiOS) and AT&T (Project Lightspeed) -- are feeding the frenzy. There also are projects by many smaller carriers and municipalities.
Indeed, it is a world in transition. Just a couple of short years ago dial-up access was considered par for the course. Now, cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL) services are the norm. Signs are, however, that we are in the midst of another fundamental change: One from DSL/modems to fiber and faster cable services.
Telcos' first target is the current cable modem customers and their own DSL services. They probably will not be sad to say goodbye to DSL, which is a makeshift technology that was developed a decade ago as a video delivery mechanism. It has done yeoman work, but it's usefulness is quickly passing.
Cable operators are also looking to speed things up. For one thing, they are informally adding higher speed -- and higher priced -- services for corporate customers. They are looking to add fiber to the mix as well.
It's difficult to clearly see evolution while you are in the midst of it. But that's precisely where we are. Perhaps we are entering a period in which deployments of higher-speed networks will proliferate. The next generation of wired broadband -- which is running parallel with similar evolutions in the cellular and wireless sectors -- will be fiber-rich, super fast and convergence-friendly.
And, as RVA's and other analysts' numbers attest, it will happen quickly.