NBN Co chief Bill Morrow says HFC NBN will be as fast as Labor's FTTPPUBLISHED: 02 Mar 2015 11:46:25 | UPDATED: 03 Mar 2015 10:48:44PUBLISHED: 02 Mar 2015 PRINT EDITION: 03 Mar 2015
Bill Morrow says that by upgrading the technology used in the television cable networks it acquired from Telstra and Optus it can compete on speeds with the previous government's fibre-to-the-premise plans. Photo: Daniel Munoz
NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow says upgrading the technology used in the television cable networks it acquired from Telstra and Optus will mean it can compete on speeds with the fibre-to-the-premise network promised by the former Labor government.
Last Monday, NBN Co signed a deal with US technology company Arris to upgrade the existing hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) networks, which are used now to provide internet and Foxtel pay television services. Mr Morrow said the work would result in much faster broadband speeds.
"I am absolutely convinced that this technology is the technology of choice around the world, with huge amounts of R&D (research and development) constantly going into it," Mr Morrow said.
"It is where we see companies now go head-to-head with fibre to the premise carriers, because this is a viable technology that will give amazing speeds."
The intention is to ensure that all of the HFC network is on Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.0 standard technology, with an intention to make it easy to upgrade to docsis 3.1 standard, which is not available yet.
Optus upgraded large parts of its HFC network to DOCSIS 3.0 in 2010, and Telstra began upgrading its HFC to 3.0 in 2011.
"Arris are already doing work to help prepare. They're active and moving quickly now to make sure that we get the modems ready, the CMTS (cable modem termination system) equipment ready," Mr Morrow said.
NBN Co had been doing trials in its HFC networks and had seen speeds of 376 megabits per second download and 49 megabits per second upload, he said.
Best of a bad mix
Director of the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) and Melbourne University professor Rod Tucker said the high speeds were possible, but on HFC everything depended on the number of users on the network at the same time.
"I'm not a great fan of the multi-technology mix that the Coalition has implemented, but I think the best part of their strategy is to use the existing HFC network, because it does have the capability of being reused and providing good extra bandwidth," Mr Tucker, who has advocated for FTTP and helped with the development of the NBN, said.
"You can easily expect over 100Mbps downstream for DOCSIS 3.0, which means in the new NBN those people with HFC will likely be doing better on average than the people with fibre-to-the-node."
NBN Co said the cost of upgrading all of its network from DOCSIS 1.0 to the current best level of 3.0 was minimal, and that the networks could already carry DOCSIS 3.0. Therefore it was more a matter of consumers replacing their modems with compatible ones.
"The biggest cost of the venture is the acquisition and installation of the 230+ CMTS at the exchanges and the acquisition and installation of the new nodes in the field. All this kit can easily be upgraded to 3.1 when we are ready," NBN Co said.
In one scenario outlined in NBN's corporate plan, HFC could account for 27 per cent of the entire rollout. FTTP would account for 25 per cent, FTTN for 29 per cent and FTTB 11 per cent.
There had been a number of trials around the world that had registered speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second download on DOCSIS 3.1, analyst firm Market Clarity chief executive Shara Evans said.
"These things always have to be tempered with the fact that they are trials, not the real-world rollouts," Ms Evans said.
"We would need to see a real-world rollout to knowwhat the actual speeds might be, but the technology is quite interesting and there certainly seems to be a lot of potential."
The number of simultaneous users, the condition of the physical plant and the specific electronics that are implemented would all affect speeds in a large-scale rollout, Ms Evans said.
NBN Co is expected to run commercial pilots on the HFC network by the end of 2015, with a full rollout earmarked from March 2016. The HFC network reaches about 3.4 million Australians now and this number is expected to rise to about 4 million when NBN adds those who are inside the footprint but were missed by Telstra and Optus.
"The fact that HFC network is a far lower-maintenance element than any of the other metallic-based copper delivery services is good news for the consumer," Mr Morrow said.
NBN Co did receive information about the copper network, but Telstra's historical costs of maintenance were not part of that. NBN Co has started collecting data on the condition of the copper network, which has, at times, been under question. Telstra has always maintained that it fixed the network as required.
Mr Morrow said he wanted Telstra to help maintain the copper network. However, there will be other firms involved.
The Australian Financial Review