Fibre coverage in APAC markets continues to expand
Take-up rate of fibre broadband services still sees room to grow.
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region continues to expand fibre coverage in emerging markets after optical fibre networks in the area reached most households—exceeding the 500-million mark as of year-end 2022.
According to Kagan data, the total fibre broadband subscription in APAC translates to 85.1% share of the entire residential fixed-line broadband subscriber base.
However, fibre broadband service take-up rates remained below 50% in most of the markets which suggests that the utilization of the fibre infrastructure was still far from saturation in the APAC region.
Mainland China and India led the fibre optic cable deployment mileage among developing markets in the region in the past years. China boasts a total length of 59.6 million kilometres of fibre lines installed, and Kagan estimates that fibre broadband subscribers will account for at least 90% of total broadband subscribers in the mainland by the end of 2027. China Mobile Ltd. led the fibre initiative with an estimated 19.4 million kilometres of fibre cables deployed.
In India, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. surpassed all other FTTH providers within two years of its launch with more than 7.6 million FTTH-connected residences by year-end 2022—cementing its position as a market leader. Bharti Airtel Ltd., the second-largest fixed broadband operator in India, also expanded its FTTH footprint across more than 500 new towns in 2022.
Hong Kong and Taiwan have both established marketwide fibre backbones, totalling less than 20,000 kilometres of fibre optical lines deployed as of end-2022, combined, based on Kagan's estimate. The two markets are also key global fixed-line communication nodes which led to multiple submarine cable projects across Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Markets with a high share of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service subscriptions, such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, have also been expanding fibre coverage to remote areas and upgrading fibre transmission speed.
Japan and South Korea, which were early movers in fibre network adoption, are focusing on speed improvement and power saving of long-distance signal transmission with upgraded network infrastructure.
In Singapore, NetLink NBN Trust, the sole fibre network builder in the country, reported 1,584,124 homes passed as of June 2023, pushing more fibre network infrastructure to enhance the end-user experience. NetLink's customers and Singapore's major ISPs Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., StarHub Ltd., and M1 Ltd. currently offer fiber broadband plans with download speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps and upload speeds of up to 1.25 Gbps.
In Vietnam, major ISPs Vnpt Ltd., Vietnam Military Telecoms Co., and FPT Telecom Joint Stock Company have reached more than 18 million fibre customers in total by year-end 2022. The market's fibre optic system uses Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) and Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) to transmit a high volume of data across Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the rest of Southeast Asian markets, particularly Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines intend to increase their fibre broadband service take-up by selling prepaid fibre-to-home packages and 5G building packages.
Indonesian telcos have begun to boost fibre broadband technology adoption while simultaneously enhancing the 5G network. As of year-end 2022, Perusahaan Perseroan (Persero) PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia Tbk had upgraded its copper-based connections in 459 cities and districts to fibre, achieving its 2020 objective of passing 37 million residences.
The Philippines' largest telco, PLDT Inc., had 17.2 million homes passed as of the first quarter of 2023. The telco has been actively rolling out fibre lines and deploying fibre ports since 2015, aiming to make the Philippines a fibre-powered market. Incumbent fixed broadband player Converge Information and Communications Technology Solutions Inc. had 15.1 million homes passed, reaching major localities in the first quarter of 2023.
Malaysian ISPs are supported by the local government's digital infrastructure project, the Jalinan Digital Negara (JENDELA) and have reached 7.7 million premises by the end of 2022.
Thai ISPs True Corp. and Advanced Info Service PCL also passed more than 23 million households in 2022 through intensive fibre rollouts and adherence to the Digital Thailand National Policy.
Challenges in fibre deployment
Japan, despite mature technologies held by major telcos, is still facing obstacles in deploying fibre infrastructure in remote rural areas due to geographic restrictions and natural disasters. The high capital expenses involved in deploying optical lines in mountain areas remained unattractive to telcos and constructors. NTT and KDDI have sought collaborations with the US space company SpaceX to develop wireless space broadband for regions where fixed fibre lines are harder to reach.
Broadband penetration in Indonesia and the Philippines also remains low as rural locations and small islands are not serviceable by fixed networks. As a solution, fixed wireless and satellite are deployed to provide internet access in outlying areas.
To deliver satellite internet access in Indonesia's remote places, Kacific Broadband Satellites Ltd. collaborated with regional service providers PT Bis Data Indonesia (BIGNET) and Pt Primacom Interbuana (PRIMACOM) to construct 2,500 sites as of June 2022.