The only constant is change. That axiom will again be shown to be true during the next months as the nature of fiber-to-the-premises changes and, perhaps, reaches another stage of development.
The ebb and flow of fiber is well represented in a study released two weeks ago by the Fiber to the Home Council. Ars Technica reports that the survey said that 16 percent of the U.S. population -- 18 million homes -- has access to FTTH today. That figure has been achieved in seven years, which puts the growth rate of homes passed at 250 percent annually. That is way ahead of copper (76 percent) and coaxial cable (125 percent), the story says.
On the other hand, however, the expansion of Verizon's FiOS, by far the biggest FTTH project ever undertaken in the United States, is slowing.The report also points out that the take rate within that burgeoning footprint is not impressive.
The overall numbers for FTTH are expected to slack off in the next year or so. FastNet's Dave Burstein reports that Verizon has confirmed that it is cutting its FiOS goal this year from an additional 3 million to 1 million homes. He says the telco probably is cutting the future FiOS footprint expansion by as many as 4 million homes. The slowdown has been discussed for some time, and I blogged about it a month ago. Here are raw numbers from the first quarter of 2010 from Verizon.
Thoughtful folks won't simply assume that FTTH is running out of steam. They will look "inside the numbers," as the sports columnists say, to consider how the fiber waterfront is changing. It is vital to develop a reasonable assessment of what constitutes sufficient growth going forward. Assuming that FiOS is slowing, the possibility that a "new normal" is needed should be considered: What, really, represents sufficient growth? Is homes passed (the size of the overall footprint) still the most important category, or should take rate (actual subscriber numbers) now be the focus? Other questions, all aimed at determining whether FTTH (and fiber to the premises, or FTTP, and other variants) has reached a new level of maturity.
The bottom line is that growth can take many forms. In assessing the health of the FTTH sector, it is important to go beyond simply noting that FiOS is fading. If, for instance, there is growth in the number of projects -- Ars Technica notes that the FTC Council sees a great number of smaller initiatives-the sector may be a bit healthier despite seeming to lose ground in some less nuanced statistical categories.