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Thursday, September 23, 2010

500m fixed broadband lines - how many users?

The world has now reached the important threshold of half a billion fixed broadband lines, which is generating some nice headlines.

It will also no doubt generate some hype from the mobile side of the fence, touting the 1 billion 3G connections passed earlier this year.

However, it is worth thinking what these mean in terms of people, not the near-obsolete notion of "subscriptions", an increasingly useless term that the telecoms industry clings onto.

What the 500m number really means is "households", plus or minus some small businesses, schools, Internet cafes and so forth.

I did a quick calculation, based on average household size in the largest broadband countries (3.1 in China, 2.6 in the US and so forth) and looking overall, I'd say there's probably about 2.9 people per broadband home. That's going to vary a bit because of a bias towards families (more people per household), urban areas (fewer people), younger people (more) and assorted other modifiers.

But give or take, we've got about 1.4 billion people in homes with fixed broadband, although some of them will be too young to use it. I'd guess maybe another 500m+ get (less frequent) access in cafes, schools and workplaces. The number is growing pretty fast too.

For all the rhetoric about mobile Internet growth, it's important to stop comparing apples with oranges. A mobile "subscription" is not equivalent to a fixed line - many people have multiple mobile devices, but typically a DSL or cable line is shared.

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