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Study: Copper switch-off benefits environment

December 4, 2020

The FTTH Council Europe has released a study that highlights the benefits of copper switch off to the environment, society, consumers, investors and operators, as well as possible implications for policy-makers and regulators and calls attention to the challenges and potential solutions that will ease the transition to fibre infrastructures across Europe.

Since last year, Estonia has made the most progress of the ten European countries analysed1 with up to 80 per cent of copper exchanges switched-off in 2020. Sweden has also made significant progress towards migration. Concrete plans to shut copper off have been put in place in France and the Netherlands and discussions are currently taking place in the UK.

In the meantime, despite high FTTH/B penetration levels, the pace of copper switch-off has been slow in Spain and Portugal. Countries such as Germany and Poland have not announced concrete plan yet however the completion of PSTN switch-off in Germany is likely to facilitate migration when fibre is widespread.

Research found that copper switch-off and transition to fibre allow for significant environmental, societal and economic benefits:

  • Reduced CO2 emissions and more energy efficiency: fibre networks emit 88 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions per Gigabit compared to legacy technologies;
  • Economic boost: full FTTP deployment can positively impact the rate of employment (in Canada, 2.9 per cent) and increase the number of start-ups (5 per cent in France);
  • Reliability: fibre is 70-80 per cent more reliable than copper, reducing considerably operational expenses such as maintenance and fault repair;
  • Benefits to consumers: In a representative survey of consumers in the Swedish market, it was found that more FTTH customers were happy with their service compared with DSL customers (82 per cent versus 50 per cent). In addition, 87 per cent of the FTTH users highlighted the high bandwidth as a benefit of FTTH based services, 62 per cent the wider range of services available and 51 per cent a better value for money
  • A better deal for investors: evidence from the Netherlands and Portugal suggests that clarity on copper switch-off can improve the business case for fibre;

Key new challenges identified

Notwithstanding the many benefits of fibre, the progress towards copper switch-off in Europe remains fragmented. The reluctance of former incumbent operators to invest in fibre access networks has been a key constraint in some cases, while challenges in persuading customers and access seekers to migrate have hampered progress in others. Regulatory factors including long notice periods for legacy network operators to switch off copper and associated wholesaling requirements for the closure of copper exchanges may have further contributed to delays and complexity in some countries which are otherwise ready to make the transition.

These regulatory and market factors holding back the migration to fibre can be tackled, and we would encourage the Member States and regulators to intensify support to copper and PSTN switch-off and consumer migration to FTTH. Some of the key steps towards success are: fostering the roll-out of fibre networks in areas where the footprint is still limited, consider ways in which copper pricing can be used as a mechanism to create 100% FTTH coverage and take up and set up labelling or rules on advertising standards to signal benefits of FTTH vs other technologies when consumers are confused or unconvinced of the benefits4” highlighted Vincent Garnier, Director General of the FTTH Council Europe. 

The shutoff of legacy networks and transition to fibre has the potential to bring a major contribution towards the achievement of the objectives of the Green Deal and to serve as an enabler of the digital transformation towards a sustainable economy. Full fibre is the only future-proof, robust and environmentally friendly network infrastructure that will enable the new generations of innovative technologies and services for years to come.” highlights President of the FTTH Council Europe Eric Festraets.

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