While the past year had many challenges, fiber broadband wasn’t one of them. A recent study conducted by RVA LLC Market Research & Consulting (RVA) shows fiber now passes over 60 million homes including 56 million homes that have at least one fiber option, with indicators suggesting record growth over the next five years.
“We hit a peak in 2008 with 4.2 million [homes passed] lead by Verizon’s first build,” said Michael Render, CEO, RVA LLC Market Research and Consulting. “Then we had some decline for a few years and started ramping back up to a record 7.2 million in 2019. [There was] a little pause last year from some of the bigger players who are now back in it, so we’re back nearly to the same annual record at 6.6 million.”
Consumer uptake of fiber broadband is slowly continuing to grow with cable uptake beginning to slow. “The race is on,” Render said, with fiber now ahead of DSL in the broadband mix. Larger providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Lumen and their spinoffs, plus the top five cable MSOs have built nearly three-fourths (72%) of overall fiber broadband access, with Tier 2 players like Frontier, Consolidated, TDS and Windstream making up 10% of the growth as they have projects ranging from a single state to three or four states. Unique to the U.S., over 1200 Tier 3 players compose the other 17% to 18% of the build, a mix of rural telcos, private competitive carriers, rural electric companies, smaller cable companies and municipalities.
With 43% of U.S. homes now being passed by fiber, there’s been strong growth over a short number of years relative to other technologies. “Copper took almost 80 years to get to 90%,” Render said. “Fiber is going to get there much faster, especially with projected growth” coming from a combination of competition in urban markets and federal monies supporting buildouts in rural areas.
Fiber broadband subscribers are also happier than users of other options. “Ninety percent of [fiber] subscribers are offered a gigabit or more, with some offered multiple or more with 10 Giga the top tier,” said Render. “No other kind of broadband provider can boast those numbers,” or symmetrical speeds. “Fiber is a unique and superior product.”
Beyond increased homes passed and a superior customer experience, fiber is booming in other projects. Over 450 million route miles of fiber cable have been installed according to RVA estimates, with 5G small cell and tower projects, telecom backhaul and other middle-mile projects adding significantly to the total over the past year.
Fiber’s future is laser bright. “All the builds [to date] before 2021, will be exceeded in the next five years, including 2021,” Render said. “When you add private [sector] demand, if the infrastructure funding all goes to fiber, there might be 16 million homes added. Nobody knows for sure what the number is yet until mapping is complete. The [U.S.] fiber-to-the-home build could be largely completed by the end of this decade.”
Hear the full discussion with Michael Render on the Fiber for Breakfast Podcast.