Fibre-based broadband is growing faster than cable for the first time.
Some 4.2 million fibre-optic subscribers were added world wide in the first quarter of 2008, compare compared to 2.5 million cable broadband subscribers. But the relative expense of setting up fibre-based broadband means that UK, European and US users are being left behind.
"[The growth is] a significant milestone for fibre-optic broadband; where it is available consumers will take fibre over other broadband technologies," said Oliver Johnson, CEO at analysts Point Topic, who came up with the figures.
Johnson is convinced fibre will become the biggest access technology. In three to five years it will pass cable, and that it will be about 10 years before it becomes bigger than DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), he said. That is, unless something happens to make it possible for DSL to keep up with bandwidth demands.
Currently there are 42 million fibre broadband users worldwide, compared to 79.6 million cable and 238 million DSL subscribers.
"DSL is adding more subscribers than fibre in absolute numbers, but not in percentage growth," said Johnson.
Users who choose fibre are also getting "more bits for their buck", according to Point Topic. The cost for fibre can get as low as 25p per megabit per month, compared to tenner for DSL and around £6 for cable, taking global averages.
The growth of fibre numbers is being driven by China (which is closing in on the US in terms of the total number of subscribers), Japan and South Korea, where cable and DSL are losing subscribers to fibre. Collectively Asia amount to over 35 million subscribers, according to Point Topic.
In the UK and the rest of Europe, as well as the US, fibre is having a harder time. Deploying the technology is still expensive, and incumbent operators are reluctant to share infrastructure, according to Johnson.
"Without some form of centralised funding it will be a long time before consumers in these markets get access to cheaper bandwidth," said Johnson.