Europe has been eating its fiber.
The EU 39 region (which includes Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Israel and Belarus) hit a milestone, with more than half of total homes now having fiber connections.
There were 182.6 million homes with fiber in September, compared with 172 million a year before. This means 52.5% of houses and apartments boast fiber-optic connections.
And Iceland sits atop the other countries, geographically and otherwise, with 70.7% of its households having fiber connections.
Belarus (70.4%) and Spain (62.6%) came in second and third.
Working from home, and the overall need for better connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic, helped boost subscription levels across the whole greater-Europe region.
All that Netflix won't stream itself.
One case in point is Ireland, where more than half the country's housing stock now has a fiber connection.
This is up from one-third last year.
More fiber in Europe's diet
The big builders were France (adding 2.8 million new fiber subscriptions), Russia (at 1.7 million) and Spain (1.4 million).
The data came in a report from the Brussels-based Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Council Europe.
Fiber roll-outs are "taking place at an increasingly faster pace in Europe, and the EU is making a very significant – though uneven – progress in meeting its connectivity targets," said Eric Festraets, the council's president.
In percentage terms, Israel's fiber subscriptions grew by 64% from September 2019 to September 2020.
Ireland's swelled by 55%, and Belgium's by 52%.
Helping all this is progress in cable design and micro-trenching: digging narrow trenches of one to two inches wide and up to two feet deep.
This makes installing fiber less intrusive and disruptive for cities and neighborhoods.
Newer lower-profile cable designs also just look better, both indoors and outdoors.
But still consuming some fiber alternatives
There are still flip sides, though.
For one, 5G in the high spectrum bands (26GHz) will "directly challenge" fiber-to-the-home in the fixed residential market, says the FTTH Council.
Meanwhile gigabit-capable fixed wireless (60GHz) is becoming more common in isolated areas, which will delay fiber deployments in some places.
So will G.fast (a hybrid setup bringing fiber closer to the customer, but not quite to their house) and cable approaches (DOCSIS 3.1 and 4.0, which use existing cable television fiber-coaxial connections).
Along with all this, the availability of skilled labor is slowing the fiber roll-out, too.
This was starting to be felt in late 2020, but the limited supply of skilled labor will cause more of a pinch in 2021 and 2022.
Red tape and coordination are also delaying fiber rollout plans, by up to two years in some parts of Europe, says the council.
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— Padraig Belton, contributing editor, special to Light Reading