The status of fiber to the home deployments in Spain

The deployment of fiber to the home (FTTH) networks in Spain is quite disappointing due to the lack of investment in next generation networks (NGNs) by most network operators. The number of FTTH subscribers is limited because FTTH is just offered only by small operators or under field trial basis from national incumbents. The only widespread access technologies at present in Spain are xDSL technologies and CATV, all of them typically under 10Mbps downstream, and highly asymmetric (typically less than 500kbps up).

At the end of 2007, the incumbent, Telefonica, began a field trial to test a FTTH offering called Trio Futura that delivers 30 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. However, the coverage of FTTH is limited to the areas where the field trial was developed, mainly in Madrid and Barcelona, and just covering a few neighborhoods. Due to the economic situation and some disputes with the Spanish telecom regulator (CMT), Telefonica is not advertising this service and is not deploying FTTH in new areas.

Other operators, such as Orange or ONO are not investing in FTTH on a large scale. To my knowledge, Orange is running a few FTTH trials and ONO is trying to migrate some of their nodes to DOCSIS 3.0 to be able to offer 100Mbps to end users.

Where does one find true FTTH in Spain?

Ironically, big cities are not the best places to find true FTTH because traditional operators are not going to deploy FTTH in the short term (unless they decide to start mass deployments before the end of the year, which is quite unlikely). The only examples of FTTH networks are located in small villages and rural areas.

The most significant FTTH project (called GIT) is located in Asturias (http://www.gitpa.es). It was started in 2007 and funded by the EU. The goal of the project was to offer high-speed broadband connections to small towns and villages in a mining region. Most of the mines closed and the government wanted to prevent the region from emptying out.

GIT offers connectivity by means of FTTH to end users using an open network model. This means service providers connect to the points of presence of GIT and from there, GIT transports the services to the end users.

At present, three operators are offering their services on the GIT network to end users. Adamo and Nostracom offer triple play: Internet access up to 100 Mbps, VoIP and cable TV. Adamo is offering the same service in Barcelona in a couple (literally) of buildings in the 22@ neighborhood, where an initiative similar to GIT is being developed. However, the 22@ network is just a dark fiber network, so all the active equipment is installed and operated by the service operator. I consider this more a field trial than a commercial deployment.

Going open is key

Other than the networks described above, there are no other big FTTH networks in Spain. A few CATV operators are thinking of migrating their networks to offer more bandwidth and services. Many of them have an old CATV system, so it is similar in price to upgrading to DOCSIS 2 (they cannot go to DOCSIS 3 without completely changing their outside plant) than to think about deploying FTTH, while going FTTH they can offer much more services and bandwidth.

However, I believe that the road to follow is to try to replicate the GIT model in other areas. The open network model optimizes the investment and offers a competitive space for every single network operator wanting to offer its services on the network. This model also has an advantage, which is that if the network is promoted by a pseudo-public entity, there is no digital divide among end users and the deployment will not be done just taking into consideration revenue parameters, but also to give complete coverage to the area.

Nevertheless, the problem with this model is that traditional operators, which tend to work on vertical network models, are not comfortable sharing their access infrastructures to have someone operate it for them. Thus, this is for me the most significant barrier: convincing traditional operators that there is no sense in building parallel highways, one next to the other, and that it is better to be a content provider than an infrastructure player.

Conclusions

The situation of FTTH in particular, and broadband in general, in Spain is quite discouraging. The broadband market is focused on offering xDSL or CATV technologies with speeds below 10Mbps and hardly symmetric, with upstream data rates rarely going beyond 500 Kbps.

Examples of FTTH networks are very limited and just restricted to field trials, except in Asturias, where there is an open FTTH network that was developed to reactivate a depressed mining region.

If we compare the broadband market in Spain with those in neighboring countries, the situation is appalling. In Portugal, several operators are already offering FTTH and advertising Gigabit data rates in the short term. In France, the market is also developing rapidly, with multiple operators competing with FTTH offers in the same areas.

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About the author

Carlos Bock has degrees (MsC, PhD in Telecommunications and is an expert in broadband and optical access networks. He did his PhD in the field of advanced optical access solutions. He is currently designing, coordinating and supervising telecommunication deployments and projects for several operators and research institutes.

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