The ultimate broadband technology uses optical fibre from the service provider all the way to the home, known as fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). Housing providers, local authorities, utility companies and telecoms providers are becoming increasingly committed to widespread FTTH rollout for a host of benefits such as enhanced quality of life for citizens, environmental sustainability, local economic stimulus and increased social wellbeing. So what is FTTH, is there demand for it within social housing, and what are the long-term benefits?
What is FTTH, and why the fuss?
FTTH is a high-capacity, fibre-optic communications path that extends from the service provider’s network right through to the home of the user, or at least the building they occupy, so they have the fastest and most reliable broadband service available.
FTTH is capable of carrying a high bandwidth signal of up to 100Mbps (enough to download an album of 100 high-resolution digital photos in less than 20 seconds) over enormous distances. The alternatives, such as DSL over telephone lines, cable-TV solutions and wireless, rarely exceed 50Mbps and in many cases can only support this over a few hundred metres. As a result these technologies inhibit households from receiving new and essential services.
It also has the benefit of being symmetrical as its upload and download capacities are the same. Most alternative broadband services are asymmetrical in favour of downloading, making them suitable for casual web-browsing and music downloading but unsuited to advanced applications such as teleworking, telemedicine and e-learning.
FTTH in social housing
Social housing tenants tend to be economically disadvantaged. All the more reason to equip these communities with a broadband technology that has the capability to help overcome social, lifestyle or physical challenges by offering the greatest propensity for social inclusion and flexible working, as well as enhanced community services and residential care.
Take collaboration – research shows that success in obtaining work is enhanced by social networking. However, these networks primarily exist among the upper-income population, and must be created and encouraged among lower-income groups. With a proportion of unemployed youngsters and adults living at home in social housing, high-capacity internet access is an important stimulus.
Looking at the social housing projects in Europe which have deployed FTTH, some were isolated without real connections to surrounding neighbourhoods. FTTH helped these communities to break down the barriers that separated them from their neighbours, encouraging social inclusion and collaboration.
While all conventional broadband technologies offer some collaboration capability, FTTH outstrips them all. FTTH is the most promising and sustainable technology which can enable the innovative services that will become necessities for living and working in the future. Its capability for high-speed upload means, for example, that people can work and collaborate from home more effectively, while high-definition video is a necessity for remote monitoring in residential care schemes and for home security.
Exciting FTTH applications
Fibre can have a positive benefit on health, education and finances for people on lower incomes. By any relative measure of bandwidth consumption, FTTH users benefit from reduced telecoms costs, as a result of networks being open and greater competition existing between operators.
FTTH opens up new, more efficient services such as telehealthcare, specialist services for the elderly and housebound, and e-learning.
FTTH also supports people with acute flexible-working needs, such as single mothers, by enabling the best possible teleworking experience. The same capabilities can also be harnessed by start-up entrepreneurs, community projects, and voluntary or charity schemes.
How much does it cost?
There is ample evidence that FTTH makes good business sense to telecom providers, particularly in large urban areas. There are also many examples of municipal and regional governments supporting FTTH networks by granting access to reduced-cost cable distribution infrastructure, such as sewers, or through direct investment in passive infrastructure.
It’s also important to take into account the environmental cost. The FTTH Council Europe has researched the sustainable development attributes of FTTH, assessing the environmental impact of manufacturing, deploying, powering and disposing of fibre.
We found that an average FTTH network will have a positive environmental impact within 15 years. For many social housing developments, which are typically concentrated in urban areas, the environmental payback could be within 10 years. The FTTH Council Europe has created a sustainable development configuration tool which enables network planners and operators to calculate the potential environmental benefit of individual FTTH deployments.
High-capacity internet connections are enabling enhanced learning, development and wellbeing across Europe, allowing social housing tenants to connect to the economic mainstream through broadband technology.
It’s about building for the future. Fibre to the home can help to define successful communities just as water, power, climate and transportation have defined them for millennia.
Hartwig Tauber is director general of the FTTH Council Europe.