America is going to fall drastically behind the rest of the world, particularly China, when it comes to high-speed broadband internet access, according to a new report.
The future of the internet is fiber and gigabit broadband, according to Rethink Technology Research, which this week emitted its forecast of the technology through 2023. And China is leading the way: a series of huge planned rollouts will take the country from its current four per cent coverage to 42 per cent of the Middle Kingdom's 456 million households in the next five years.
By contrast, the United States will have only 37.7 million users with super-fast internet by 2023 – just over 11 per cent coverage. The report argues that such a disparity represents "a massive advantage to Chinese businesses."
While the US is weighed down by an oligopolistic market with a small number of large broadband companies that avoid competing with one another to form local monopolies and maximize profits, China is focused on the end goal of getting gigabit to the masses.
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Rethink argues that as a result, gigabit broadband will accelerate much faster than previous forecasts have imagined: Growing tenfold in the next five years and accounting for 31 per cent of all broadband. It predicts that 68 per cent of all those Gig lines will be in Asia: 232.5 million out of a global total of 340.5 million.
It also expects that the biggest barrier to rollout and adoption – the cost of super-fast internet – to effectively vanish in two years' time at which point "1Gbps broadband will become commonplace and inexpensive."
It bases its calculations on existing broadband numbers and the behavior of the world's top 100 ISPs – which account for 90 per cent of global broadband connections. "We have also tracked the rate at which they have replaced their existing home gateway customer-provided equipment," the report notes. "This varies between a full refresh in five years to a full refresh in 11 years."
It assumes that the number of people willing to pay a premium for faster internet access is going to grow over time, particularly as prices fall. "Typically the longer that an operator has had a 1 Gbps offering, the larger percentage of its customers will be convinced to upgrade," it notes, arguing that each year the percentage of customers that upgrade will move from five to eight per cent.
The report also predicts the deathknell for various bridging technologies that offer fast internet over existing wires - including G.fast, G.Now and MoCA Access. The authors argue that the "window of opportunity is closing" because of an increasing tendency for buildings to go for direct fiber connections.
The exception is of course DOCSIS 3.1, which the US cable industry is putting its weight behind in an effort to retain its current business model.
Although China and the US represent the big broadband beasts, the report highlights Japan, France and South Korea as leading the way with gigabit rollout – with more than 50 per cent of households expected to get fiber by 2023 - and calls the UK, Germany and much of Latin America "laggards" when it comes to rollouts.
As to the counter-argument – who needs 1 Gbps? – the report notes: "While there is an argument that almost no-one currently really needs 1 Gbps… the emergence of 1 Gbps is being tied by operators to Gigabit class Wi-Fi services, themselves just emerging, able to cope with real world workloads in excess of 1 Gbps."
It's worth noting that when it comes to technology the argument that "no one needs that much speed/power/memory" has literally never come true. ®