The UK has the lowest penetration of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) in Europe, with only 0.05% of households connected, according to new research.

The FTTH Council Europe's latest “panorama” report reveals that, despite the fact that the government has announced plans to have the “best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015”, the UK is clearly lagging and has no large-scale FTTH deployment plans.

Having previously announced an ambitious FTTH coverage objective in 2011 – 2.5 million homes passed by the end of 2012 – the UK incumbent BT has changed its strategy, deciding to focus on upgrading its copper network to offer fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) instead.

FTTC means that fibre optic cables are laid to street cabinets, and then traditional copper cables are used to connect homes and businesses to the street cabinets. This “last mile” copper connection can reduce broadband speeds significantly.

FTTH (also known as fibre-to-the-premises) continues the fibre link from the street cabinets into the building, which is a much more expensive option. With FTTH, however, end users can get connection speeds of up to 300Mbps, as opposed to FTTC, which currently offers speeds of up to 40Mbps.

The FTTH Council states that that Broadband Delivery (BDUK) project has missed the opportunity to bring the country “real” broadband. Community-driven projects – such as those in Hull and East Yorkshire – demonstrate a strong demand for FTTH, it said, but such projects rely on support from the incumbent.

“Incumbents know that copper is obsolete, but they want to hold onto their legacy infrastructure for as long as possible because they are making money from it,” said Nadia Babaali, communications director at FTTH Council Europe.

“In order for the FTTH penetration rate to grow, we need the big operators to deploy it, but the regulatory environment also needs to ensure that investing in the infrastructure results in a competitive return for those companies.”

This means allowing encumbents to offer FTTH on an exclusive basis for a period of time, before opening their network up to rival operators, Babaali said. FTTH sunbscribers should also be able to purchase more services and pay-as-you-go content, translating into a higher average revenue per user.

Europe as a whole is slightly behind the rest of the world in deploying FTTH, with 8.7% of homes expected to be connected by the end of 2016 compared to 10.5% globally.

Eastern European countries are leading the way, with Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, Slovak Republic, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark, Portugal and Bulgaria all expected to achieve “FTTH maturity” (20% penetration) by 2016.

Meanwhile, the UK, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Austria, will still have less than 10% penetration at that time, according to the report.

Hartwig Tauber, director general of FTTH Council Europe, said that countries that fall behind on FTTH deployment may miss out on their chance to build a sustainable future for their citizens.

He added that extra efforts are required to ensure that Europe reaches the Digital Agenda 2020 broadband target of at least 50% of households using broadband connections of 100Mbps or more – a target that will cost the EU €192 billion, according to the FTTH Council Europe.

“The decision to invest in FTTH – the only future-proof solution – needs to be made today,” he said.