FOA Guide 

FTTH: Fiber To The Home

   Since the first installations of fiber optic networks in the late 1970s, the goal of the fiber optic industry has been to install fiber optics all the way to the home. Telecommunications systems were usually divided into long distance, metropolitan and subscriber categories. In the beginning, the challenge was well known - 10% of the cable plant was in long distance, 10% was in metro and fully 80% of the cable plant was the "last mile" - the subscriber. The issue was, and is, the economics of fiber to the home (FTTH.)

    From an economic standpoint, fiber was immediately cost effective in the long-distance networks. Compared to copper or digital radio, fiber’s high bandwidth and low attenuation easily offset its higher cost. Compared to copper wire used in telephony, fiber could carry thousands of times more phone conversations hundreds of times further, making the cost of a phone connection over fiber only a few percent as much as transmitting over copper.This photo was used many times in the early days to illustrate the information carrying advantage of optical fiber:

fiber vs copper

    It took only a few years before the rapidly advancing technology of fiber optics led to widespread use and fiber quickly dominated the long distance market. Crews buried cables underground or ran aerial cables on poles nonstop for a decade to upgrade long distance service. At the same time, technology was developed for submarine cables and by the late 1980s, all overseas communications expansion was done by fiber optics, replacing copper cables and satellites. Today, virtually all long distance communications is carried over the installed fiber optic network both on land and via hundreds of submarine cables as shown below.

Earth with fiber optic cables

    The next step was connecting local central offices, the link between subscribers and the switched phone network. Around the time the long distance networks were being completed, consumer use of the Internet took off. It was the Internet that drove the communications revolution by connecting anyone with a PC to a worldwide source of information and communication and forced the expansion of fiber into communications networks. Metropolitan phone networks became overloaded quickly and fiber optics was ready to provide the expansion capability. The scope of metropolitan fiber optic installations was obvious to anyone driving around almost any town, as it was hard to drive anywhere without encountering roads torn up for the installation of conduit and fiber optic splicing trucks blocking the roadways.

    While telecom companies were building out their backbone networks, CATV companies benefited from several technical developments. The Internet created a need for high speed "broadband" networks. A way of using CATV networks for Internet access using the frequencies from several TV channels was developed leading to the cable modem. And finally the DFB laser capable of converting CATV analog signals to optical was developed to allow companies to build a hybrid fiber coax CATV network. CATV companies ran with the idea and began offering broadband Internet service in 1997, jumping ahead of the telecom networks to become the dominant broadband providers.

    Then the telecom/Internet "bubble" burst in 2001. The Internet “bubble” that caused the telecom “bubble” and thereby the fiber optic “bubble” caused the downfall of a tremendous number of companies and left the industry with a glut of both installed fiber backbone capacity and fiber optic component manufacturing capacity. In a good illustration of economics at work, the cost of fiber optic components took a nosedive as supply outstripped demand. Since the market bust, fiber and component prices became very cheap. One analyst compared fiber prices to kite string and fishing line, both of which are more expensive than the current prices of top quality optical fiber. That set the stage for the next big application for fiber optics.

    Many homes today are still connected with aging, low-performance copper telephone wire that cannot support DSL connection speeds that allow the phone companies to compete with the cable modems used by CATV companies for broadband access. These aging phone lines not only cannot carry high bandwidth digital signals, they are extremely expensive to maintain just for POTS (plain old telephone service.) Savings in maintenance alone were projected by a 2005 Telcordia report to pay back the cost of installing fiber in under 20 years, irrespective of revenue from new services.

    One problem with converting homes from copper to fiber was the immense size of the task. Long distance cables represent about 10% of the telecom network. Metropolitan networks represent another 10%. But the connection to the home, traditionally called the "last mile," represents about 80% of all the cabling in telecom, making conversion of copper to fiber to the home a massive task.

    Besides component prices dropping as a result of oversupply, new network architectures have been developed that allow sharing  components for FTTH that further reduces cost. A passive optical splitter that takes one fiber input and connects bi-directionally to as many as 32 users cuts the cost of the links substantially by sharing, one expensive laser transmitter with up to 32 homes and reducing the number of fibers needed. This is what is called a PON network, or passive optical network.

More on FTTH network architecture and protocol.

    Each home needs to be connected to the local central office or head end with singlemode fiber,  through a splitter generally placed close to the homes connected to it. Every home will have a singlemode fiber link placed underground or aerial to the cables running down the street and a network interface device containing fiber optic transmitters and receivers will be installed on the outside of the house. The incoming cable needs to be terminated at the house, tested, connected to the interface and the service tested.

FTTH optical network terminal

    So fiber has now gained acceptance in the final frontier of telephone networks, the “last mile”—the connection to the home. Phone companies are now realizing the only choice for upgrading the subscriber connection is fiber to the home (FTTH). Service providers have committed billions of dollars to connecting millions of home with fiber.

    With FiOS in 2006-7, Verizon became the leader in the US in FTTH, but the US trails many other countries around the world in converting to FTTH. Progress requires massive capital investment and training lots of people to install FTTH, or FTTP (fiber to the premises as they call it.)  Besides the telcos, several other groups are installing FTTH. National governments: Countries with a national telecom policy usually favor FTTx for their national broadband networks. In 2021, the highest percentage of users connected on FTTH was in UAE where Etisalat has connected virtually all homes (Etisalat is an FOA approved school also.) Some homes may be connected with fiber, but where FTTH is too expensive, wireless or satellite connections may be preferred. Even the CATV companies are considering fiber to replace aging coax, since the price is right and performance unlimited.

    Municipalities: Some of the first FTTH systems were installed by cities - progressive ones like Palo Alto, CA did it at the request of their high-tech citizens, some did it to entice businesses to move there, like Anaheim, CA some did it (or are trying to) because they were not pleased with the service of telcos or CATV companies. The latter often found the telcos or CATV companies to be formidable opponents who did not always play fair! Most municipal FTTx projects use rights of way available to the city through city-owned utilities such as Chattanooga, Clarksville and Jackson, TN which offer 1Gb/s FTTH already.

    Google Fiber made municipal FTTH popular by having a competition for a city to get Gigabit FTTH installed by them - and Kansas City won the competition but many other cities decided they wanted fiber optics anyway and they are now running their own networks. Google fiber had many successes and some notable failures but they convinced many other organizations to commit to gigabit broadband over fiber.

    Utilities: Owning rights of way to the home convinced some utilities to try FTTH or FTTC. Ethernet over power lines was once considered an option for power companies ton use power lines for the final connection to the home, but the technology was inadequate. FTTx is even becoming real for many customers through electrical cooperatives. The best example of a utility-owned FTTH network is the EPB system in Chattanooga, TN.

    Private companies: There are private companies that will build municipal FTTH networks under an agreement with the city, similar to CATV agreements. In addition, some contractors and real estate developers building subdivisions or apartments are installing FTTH so they can connect with telecommunications companies for services to resell.

    Google Fiber is certainly the largest and best known of the private FTTH networks. Google started in Kansas City, then added Austin and Provo, Utah and began adding up to 34 other cites to their service areas. What Google appears to have learned from Kansas City was when the city is cooperative, FTTH is relatively cheap to install (KC numbers have been quoted as low as <$500 per customer) and provides a constant stream of high margin income.

    As of 2021, there are thousands of FTTH projects around the world. Many are being done by telecom companies like Etisalat. Cities, counties and even states are building fiber optic networks to serve citizens. Real estate developers are building FTTH networks because the cost is lower than a upgraded kitchen, helps sell houses faster and brings much more profit. Even venture capital has begun investing in FTTH networks for the potential return on investment.

Here is a Google Map of worldwide FTTH Projects. 

What Makes A Successful Fiber Optic Project?

    People call FOA for advice all the time. Most of the calls deal with technical questions about products, installation and testing. But in one call; a manager who was starting to plan a fiber optic project wanted advice on how to proceed. It was a long call! His basic question was “What does it take to have a successful fiber optic project?” We responded with 4 words: financing, commitment, expertise and patience.

Financing:     The story goes that someone asked Neil Armstrong what he was thinking about while sitting on top of the rocket ready to launch Apollo 11 to the moon. “Every part was made by the lowest bidder,” was supposedly his reply. (The same quote has been attributed to most early astronauts!)

    Fiber optics are not necessarily expensive; in fact, fiber has been used so widely because it is the least expensive communications medium in virtually all projects. But fiber optic projects may require a lot of construction which makes the project expensive. Like all other projects, it never pays to cut corners. Planning and running the project properly is what saves money, trying to cheapen the project. Not all jobs should go to the lowest bidder, unless they meet all the criteria for a qualified bidder. Likewise, one needs to ensure that when a project starts, there are funds available to complete the job properly, including some extra for unplanned changes or modifications.

Commitment:    Just like having sufficient finances to compete the project, one needs a commitment to finish the job once it is started. Changes of management or changes in governments often lead to confusion or even modifying a project in midstream. There is nothing wrong with making changes based on what learns as the project progresses; it may even involve greater efficiency or cost savings, but arbitrary changes may jeopardize the project's timetable, completion or even its usefulness.

    If the project is under the auspices of a government entity, changes in administration or management that causes changes in a project will invariably make it more expensive and may jeopardize the success of the entire project. Ideally, the personnel who propose, design and plan the network should see it to completion.

Expertise:     Fiber requires expertise and experience. It's obvious the installers need to know what they are doing, but in reality, so must the managers who work for the organization that is contracting for the work. There are many instances of projects where the managers signed off on the project when it was incomplete or improperly installed. The only way to properly manage a project is to understand every aspect of it well enough to know if it is being done properly and when it is actually complete.

    Planners, designers, contractors and installers should all be trained and certified as well as being experienced with good references. That holds doubly so for consultants. In many places, to be a consultant or cabling contractor means little other than registering as a business and advertising your services. Some of the problems we've seen with outside services, include consultants who took contracts, spent time on a project, then told the customer they could not help them with the project, but kept the money.

    We have seen contractors doing shoddy installations, ruining expensive fiber optic cable during pulling and leaving jobs half done but getting paid because the customer knew no better. One of the biggest problems is subcontractors. A contractor with good credentials gets the job but subcontracts some of the work to a contractor who will do the work at a lower price, but does not have the training or experience (or motivation) to do it right. In your contract with an installer, we recommend a clause giving the project manager responsibility for evaluating and approving all subcontractors.

    The manager must know better to prevent problems. FOA also has pages on what the manager needs to know.

Patience:     From concept to acceptance, a typical OSP fiber project can take 2-5 years and a premises project 1-2 years. It depends on the size of the project, the time to properly design it, create project paperwork, get permits, buy components, hire contractors and properly install it.  Proper workmanship takes time and is not easily rushed. Saving time generally means cutting corners and that is often the cause of the problems encountered. Take your time, plan, design, select, install, test and document your network properly.

    And by the way, "future proofing" is a myth! Who would have known in 1990 how ubiquitous the Internet would be today? How reliant we could be on smartphones other mobile devices? How many workers would be working remotely or using videoconferencing for meetings? Technology moves too fast and is too disruptive for anyone to make reliable predictions. The IBMer who developed MRP - the original company organizational software - used to tell everyone, "A forecast is wrong from the moment it is made." Plan for the future, but assume you will upgrade, change directions, etc. driven by new tech and changes in the world around us.

The Fiber Optic Association Fiber To The Home Handbook: For Planners, Managers, Designers, Installers And Operators Of FTTH - Fiber To The Home - Networks
FOA FTTH Handbook
The Fiber Optic Association Fiber To The Home Handbook Available in paperback or as an eBook on the Amazon Kindle  Available direct from, local booksellers and other distributors.

Technical Information on FTTX  From The FOA Online Guide
FTTH Introduction  
FTTH Architectures
FTTH in MDUs (Multiple Dwelling Units)  
FTTH PON Standards, Specifications and Protocols  
FTTH Design    (NEW)
FTTH Installation 
FTTH Customer Premises Installation  
FTTH Network Testing  
FTTH Case Studies: Do-It-Yourself FTTH  
FTTH Project Management
Migration from GPON to 10GPON  

Training & Certification
Fiber U Online FTTx Self Study Program (free)

FOA Certification Overview
FOA FTTx Certification Requirements
FOA-Approved Training Programs

 Table of Contents: The FOA Reference Guide To Fiber Optics


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