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What does the Worldwide Fibre Shortage Mean for You?

What does the Worldwide Fibre Shortage Mean for You?

We’ve previously looked at why blown, micro-ducted systems have proved so popular with users and concentrated on the operational and cost advantages of fibre deployment. However, in the immediate term, there is a further consideration: the availability of fibre.

The Capacity Picture

Since the crash of 1999-2000, optical fibre has been relatively freely available due to a combination of high production capacity and suppressed demand. However, the recovery since 2008 has seen a steady increase in cable demand while capacity has been taken out of the market. In the UK alone, the only two major fibre production facilities no longer exist, one was dismantled and the other mothballed. Globally there has been a number of fibre plant closures amongst the ‘major’ manufacturers. Over 17 manufacturing plants have closed or are closing since 2012.

So what is global fibre capacity demand, and how is it broken down? The most reliable estimates put global demand at around 420 million fibre kms ( 420 mfkm). Fibre production capacity depends on two process factors (i) the pre-form capacity and (ii) the drawing capacity. Although fibre drawing capacity greatly exceeds demand (by approximately 50%), fibre pre-form production capacity is only around the 430 mfkm mark and the slight excess (less than 3%) is expected to be eliminated by the end of 2017 and a shortfall is anticipated, at least for a period of time.

Implications of Fibre surplus ending

Since there is still spare drawing capacity, especially in China, it is tempting to see if companies with drawing towers can somehow come up with fresh fibre supplies. This may be dangerous path as China is a vast consumer of fibre and its major users, led by China Mobile already take nearly all the annual 200 mfkm that the country produces. The little that is left may not be to the fibre standard required, or indeed may be the wrong type of fibre and lead to transmission problems ranging from high attenuation to incorrect dispersion performance and jointing mismatch. It also might be tempting to hang on for a very short time to purchase that high capacity cable. Well, fibre demand is predicted to rise ahead of supply until about 2020.

So, what steps can a rational customer take to overcome this?

  1. Buy the fibre you need.

That means sufficient backbone capacity to meet short term needs, but put in place easily and rapidly expandable infrastructure for when additional fibre is needed and is available. The most Rapidly expandable infrastructure will include Blown Fibre.


Ducted Tube Bundle
Buried Tube Bundle
Blowing in Fibre
  1. Establish a relationship with a reputable fibre products supplier.

Like most aspects of life, relationships matter. If you are a network builder with, for example a 5 or 10 year build line, it may not be sensible to ‘spot buy’ cable. Establishing a medium to long term relationship will not only lead to a more secure supply chain, but frequently provides cost benefits in terms of volume discounts. Needless to say, it’s wise to pick a supplier of cable products that itself can demonstrate security of supply from its fibre maker.

  1. Guarantee your fibre requirements by buying your passive components from one supplier

Emtelle are a manufacturer of HDPE ducts, Mini cable ducts, FTTH ducts and we also manufacture mini cables and fibre bundles. We shall prioritise supply of cable (in times of global shortages) to our clients who purchase our HDPE ducts and Blown Fibre solutions.

Emtelle UK Limited Logo

Fibre Supply will be prioritised to our microduct customers

  1. Pick the correct fibre!

It may seem obvious but even flagship communication providers have not always done this as we know from the problems caused by G.653 fibre when trying to use DWDM systems. More recently the debate about G.652D versus G.657A1 and A2 types has raged. In all cases talk to active equipment vendors as well as plant suppliers, in addition to your cable provider.

Emtelle UK Limited Logo

G652b – G652d – G657A1 – G657A2 – Future Fibre Types?

How can a microduct vendor help?

Microduct suppliers who provide a wide range of multiple duct bundles help in the first instance by allowing a rapid deployment path for future fibre in a time frame of typically up to 20 years. Not only will this see out any conceivable short term capacity issues, but it will facilitate the addition of new fibre types as they emerge. Two new technologies are known: ‘holey’ or micro-structured fibre and multi-core fibres. Both offer high capacity to the user and these products – along with as yet unknown developments – will almost certainly find their way into communications networks.

In this respect, Fibre to the Premise is the ‘known unknown’. It’s almost universally accepted that optical fibre to the building will become ubiquitous. Currently the EU+Russia has 30.4M FTTP users, China 130M and the US+Canada+S America 16M. However, for the EU FTTP penetration is only 9% (there are 200M homes in the EU in total). This means that FTTP maturity will be after 2025 for the EU. The exact timing is unknown and depends as much on political concerns and economic conditions as it does on technology. Microduct products have established themselves firmly in the FTTP space, indeed many users have or are putting microduct in the ground or aerially in anticipation of that 2025+ timeline.

Beyond FTTP there are two unknown unknowns where fibre demand is uncharted. In 2015 FTTP used a little over half of all the fibre deployed. Depending on how these two other sectors work out that proportion may fall dramatically. 5G networks which will carry a peak data rate of 20 Gb/s in new spectral bands will increase the number of base stations and fibre links – all by around 2020.

Emtelle UK Limited Logo

Guarantee = 20 Years Minimum Lifetime

The Future Technologies

However, it is potentially not the biggest opportunity for fibre. That lies with the Internet of Things (IoT) and its implications are only just emerging. The IoT is often thought of as a collection of white goods linked to a remote mobile phone. Whilst that may be one small segment, it won’t generate a lot of data and trouble network providers since it will likely be accommodated within existing FTTP use. The hidden side of the IoT involves vehicles, highways, public space cameras and other sensors. Amongst all those possibilities it is driverless vehicles that will likely turn out to be the ‘killer app’ since there are over 1 billion vehicles on the World’s roads and that figure is rising by nearly 10% a year. So within a little over 100 years we’ll move from tarmac to the iron (rail) road to the fibred, intelligent road that will transform every aspect of our lives.

Also, 5G and Wifi is nearing fruition as a step closer to offering superfast broadband to your vicinity which will also need a fibre feed to every antenna (and this fibre could possibly be used to connect homes in the future, if necessary).


With the possibility of fibre shortages, developments in fibre technology and the possibility that fibre to many homes will not mature until 2025, it is very hard to build a network and accommodate these possibilities. The most suitable way is to have an open and upgradeable network that can have fibre installed or upgraded rapidly. This is why so many companies around the world are choosing Emtelle’s Blown Fibre solution (branded Fibreflow) for building their Passive network layer. By choosing Fibreflow, they are alleviating any risk of fibre shortage or developments in fibre technology and at the same time, they are providing a dedicated fibre pathway to each home for the foreseeable future.

Emtelle’s Fibreflow solution can be slightly more expensive than a direct buried cable and similar solutions, but it gives the benefits of a fully flexible solution and the majority of our customers feel that the total overall costs throughout a networks lifetime is cheaper & easier to maintain and add customer connections than most other solutions in the market place.

In addition to this, when networks are being reviewed by operators with the thought of buying them to expand their footprint, they will look deeply into how to maintain and add future connections to the network. They understand the value of Blown Fibre networks and we are sure that they are willing to pay that bit extra to ensure that their network has the flexibility to be used for many years to come.

“Buy Cheap – Buy Twice”

is not the best way to build a fibre network

B4RN Community Projects
North West England, UK
Emtelle supply FibreFlow™ solution to Broadband for the Rural North Ltd to enable remote rural communities to be connected to a fibre optic broadband network.
P2P FTTh Projects
FibreFlow Blown Fibre
GVO d.o.o. has undertaken a large scale P2P FTTh project in Germany, supplying high quality, superfast fibre optics to 5345 households, using 330km of micro ducts and 906km of mini cables and fibres.
Engage Emtelle