LONDON – As of the end of March 2012, there were 612.6 million fixed broadband lines around the world, according to a new report from research firm Point Topic and the Broadband Forum.

This represents a 2.7 percent growth in the first quarter of 2012 and 11.5 percent in the 12 months since Q1 2011. The rapid rate of growth is primarily due to the addition of new broadband markets, where penetration grows more quickly than in mature markets. Because of the relative saturation of the North American and European broadband markets, Asia increased its market share by 0.14 percent in the quarter, a trend that will accelerate in the coming quarters.

Even markets such as India and China aren’t bottomless, however, and Point Topic finds signs that growth is flattening out.

FTTx Is the Dominant Story
The dominant story in access technologies continues to be FTTx, including various hybrid combinations of fiber and local copper loops. Many operators have found that shortening local loops by bringing fiber closer to subscribers offers a significant increase in bandwidth at a relatively low cost. Consumers are increasingly moving from traditional DSL to the hybrid technologies, where those are available, but for the most part these technologies allow operators to retain rather than gain subscribers.

FTTH is growing strongly from a small base, but deployments are still limited in most markets. (Point Topic estimates the FTTH market as 2.7 percent of the total, or about 16.2 million subscribers worldwide, which is about 20 percent of estimates by the global FTTH Councils. Some of this difference may be due to the fact that the European and APAC FTTH Councils include many fiber-to-the-building deployments in their counts, and Point Topic includes these under FTTx.)

Cable is doing better than expected in most markets, particularly in Europe and the Americas.

DSL is still the most widely used access technology on a global basis. Although its market share dropped by 0.5 percent in the quarter, it has a long way to go before being overtaken.

Satellite and mobile, as primary home broadband connections, are gaining subscribers at an
increasing rate. This growth reflects consumers’ determination to acquire broadband connections even when fixed broadband is not available. The launch of Ka-band satellites in America and Europe has also moved satellite service closer to being comparable with fixed broadband. Strong growth of satellite and mobile broadband is expected to continue simply because they serve areas with little or no competition.

Strong Growth for IPTV
There are now 65.6 million IPTV subscribers worldwide, up 3.8 million in the quarter. China tops the list in terms of both total subscribers and subscriber growth. Both France and the US are reporting strong numbers and are accelerating at the moment. As higher-bandwidth solutions penetrate the market, IPTV take-up will increase. With affordable, and sometimes loss-leading, bundled subscriptions on offer, the market is in the customer acquisition phase.

In the U.S., more and more consumers are ‘cutting the cable’ and shifting their video delivery to their broadband packages. This allows access to more video sources than are available on a cable TV system at the moment, and that seems to be the driving force particularly when coupled with the relatively low subscription costs.

Overall, Point Topic sees IPTV becoming a mass-market service as broadband deployments
of sufficient bandwidth and quality reach more and more subscribers and the pricing, particularly
in bundles, makes it more attractive than other options.