NBN Co's 25Mbps promise relies on HFC networks already built

NBN Co's 25Mbps promise relies on HFC networks already built

Summary: Telstra and Optus' existing HFC networks will be crucial for the Coalition to even meet less than half of its 25Mbps promise in 2016, and despite the criticism of the proposal, NBN Co board member Simon Hackett has said that HFC still has a lot to offer.


At the launch of the Coalition's broadband policy in April, Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prime Minister Tony Abbott barely discussed plans for the existing Telstra and Optus hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks, but now those networks will likely make up one third of the total National Broadband Network (NBN) fixed network, and almost half of the Coalition's 2016 target for faster broadband by 2016.

The details of a proposal to use the existing HFC networks were first outed in NBN Co's strategic review, released on Thursday last week, as part of a "multi-technology mix" model for the future NBN. The model will combine fibre to the premises, fibre to the node, HFC, fixed wireless, and satellite that will require around AU$41 billion in peak funding.

Although 2.7 million premises are now passed by the two HFC networks, the strategic review points out that the networks could be extended to cover another 700,000 premises to bring the total to 3.4 million premises passed. The document suggests that in order to cope with peak demand on the networks and support 50Mbps by 2019, they will have to be upgraded. NBN Co redacted the cost of upgrading the HFC network from the document, but put the operating costs at AU$15 to AU$25 per premises per year.

The review assumes that NBN Co will gain access to the HFC networks in the second half of 2015, with the upgrades and expansions to be completed over the next four years. By accessing the network in 2015, NBN Co would gain access to the 2.6 million out of the 5.23 million premises that it has said will have access to at least 25Mbps download speeds by 2016.

This means that almost 50 percent of the total 43 percent of all Australian premises that the report says will have access to download speeds of 25Mbps by 2016 will come from the HFC networks already built. This comes despite a Coalition promise before the election that every premises will have access to 25Mbps download speeds by 2016.

"We've said by 2016, no one will have access to less than 25 megabits per second," Turnbull told 2GB in April. On Friday, the minister said that NBN Co had told him otherwise.

"What I said before the election was that we believe that we could get all Australians 25 megs by 2016, and the company has come back with its advisers and said they do not believe that is achievable," Turnbull told Channel Nine.

News of the proposed re-use of the existing HFC networks in the NBN has drawn criticism from some quarters, with claims that no upgrade to the HFC networks will be made at all as part of the proposed NBN takeover of the networks. However, Internode founder and new NBN Co board member Simon Hackett wrote in a personal blog post over the weekend that those views come from incorrect assumptions arising from the strategic review.

"The review proposes to take the existing Telstra and Optus HFC cable networks, and to transform them into a modern broadband network via major investment in these areas," Hackett said.

"For stand-alone premises in the rollout areas concerned, this includes repairing all existing lead-ins that need it, building all the missing lead-ins that were never done in the original HFC rollout, and expanding the HFC rollout into all the 'black spots' inside those overall rollouts that were left behind when the original rollouts ceased.

"The deployment also includes a laundry list of network upgrades and capacity expansions to deliver high-performance, low-contention ratio 100 megabit downstream rates."

Apartments and other multi-dwelling units would be covered by the HFC network through fibre-to-the-basement technology, Hackett said.

Contention ratios will be reduced on HFC by deploying nodes, and the spectrum being used on the cable will be expanded with new IP-capable data transmission equipment used in the network to improve speeds, Hackett said.

"HFC is capable of NBN-grade outcomes, providing sufficient investment is made in the infrastructure concerned," he said.

In fact, the incorporation of DOCSIS3.1 into the networks would be able to support up to 1Gbps download speeds, Hackett said.

The NBN Co board member pointed out in his blog post that this is his personal view, and does not represent the position of NBN Co or its board.

The use of the HFC networks of Telstra and Optus in the NBN is still entirely hypothetical at this point, as the agreements in place with both companies are to have customers moved off the network and onto the fibre-to-the-premises NBN.

Turnbull has indicated that initial discussions have commenced with Telstra for renegotiation, but given the 2015 date for getting access to the HFC networks, the company has set out close to 18 months for new deals to be struck with the two telecommunications companies.

Topics: NBN, Government, Government AU


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • Typical Australian goverment thinking!

    No high speed internet, no high speed rail and no proper rail freight network!
    Every year we slip further and further behind the rest of the world as we are run by people who have NO vision! 8-(
  • I can see Turnbull is working hard to redefine the phrase "unmitigated disaster" and with just 1110 days to go he wants to do it in record time too. Go team HFC! yay!
    Hubert Cumberdale
    • HFC is a joke.

      I had Telstra cable internet and was told it would be fast, wrong. ADSL 2 is faster so I switched. You can have my old cable modems if you want them.
      Optus signed contracts with NBNco to switch off its HFC.
      So now Optus will want money from Turnbill / Taxpayers to turn their HFC back on and yet Turnbill breaks another contract. Have you figured the cost in the millions Optus will ask for in compensation and ongoing maintenance for their old HFC cable.
      HFC is only in metro areas. I lived in country NSW and the nearest Optus dslams, HFC, network was over 300 kms. If you wanted to use Optus network form home you had to use the existing Telstra lines and pay Telstra their cut. As Optus has no need to go into country areas.
      Hence Come by Chance in NW NSW only has Telstra and the lines out there are forever been down and the repairs can take weeks to fix. Telstra has spent millions already trying to rectify the problems out there. Locals do not have reliable phones out there now, no mobile coverage either. Some farmers have to drive 80 kms to town to ring for help in an emergency, just hope the person needing the emergency services lives long enough to they arrive.
      So Herbert I am sure you will have a great HFC 1mbps connection at your Double Bay penthouse suite while others get no service or help.
  • Never ending sarga!

    This is what happens when unqualified idiots in Government make decisions on things they have no idea about. Talk about NBN policy on the run.
    Turnbull and Abbott just say what people want to hear for political gain then twist what they said around and around as it suites them. They take and treat us as fools.
    Turnbull said what a mess the NBN was in under Labor. Well look at the mess and ever changing direction it is or should I say not going in now. All lies, excuses no vision from this lot.
  • How is this a bad thing?

    If the government can save a huge capital cost and use the already capable HFC network, that's a great thing. I don't understand the logic that to meet the 2016 deadline it's better if NBN Co build out more infrastructure, not less. The goal is high speed Internet into homes. If the network is already there, use it.
    Incidentally DOCSIS 3.1 is capable of well over 1Gbps. Even the current Euro 3.0 standard can scale to nearly 1Gig. The 3.1 spec is theoretically 10Gbps down.
    Andy Grace
    • It is a bad thing because

      FTTP is not just about high speed internet. It is about an ubiquitous communication network that links all Australians and gives them equal opportunity to access modern telecommunication based systems not just the internet.

      So DOCSIS 3.1 can do 10Gig how exciting. Fibre can do 1Petabyte or better and this is achievable by just changing the equipment at the sending and receiving ends.

      It is time this sham of an argument led by the Coalition that wireless or HFC or copper upgrades can be used instead of fibre is exposed not only as short sighted but as economic stupidity.
      • but it's a solution..

        that provides far more than enough bandwidth and provides it far sooner than would have otherwise happened. Utilising existing infrastructure gets high speed internet out to more people quicker than just waiting for fttp to be rolled out everywhere. Your suburb is an exception, but if you are saying that nbn works have already started in your area then you'll most likely get fttp - all committed works will be completed.
        Andrew Hargrave
    • It is a bad thing because

      Andy, HFC is just complete garbage, when foxtel came to our area it was actually installed underground through Telstras conduits, everybody in our area thought we were getting something special, the problem was the standard of HFC cabling that was so abysmal that within two years connectivity problems were rife. For example, every time it rained the conduit and pits flooded and still do because very little thought was given to drainage, coaxial cable does not do very well in a constantly damp environment. In the pits when we finally got a tech with nerve to go against management and pump out the water he found the distribution boxes fitted which were made in china had no weather seals for the cases and therefore were full of water which also had a disastrous effect on connectivity. We finally gave foxtel the flick because we were so sick of the disruptions and the amount of time spent on the phone trying to get assistance (up to three hours). When I have discussed this with family and colleagues who live in other areas the same story seems to keep cropping up. So why does Turnbull want to go down this path and keep an already shonky and fault prone system in use, it beggars belief that he does, all I know is this, my neighborhood which was to have the NBN installed this month even down to the pulling rods having been installed and the ident numbers having been painted on the pits we are now in limbo and this bit of news that HFC installed areas wont get the NBN indicates that I will never see it here in my lifetime. Thanks Liberal dickheads!
    • bad HFC.

      1. Telstra do dodgy work. Some moron from Telstra connected HFC cable to side of our guttering down pipe. I have pictures to show and reports from Telstra stating they did dodgy work. When a truck hit the HFC cable in our street, the force ripped the cable mount off eve and ripped off the down pipe to house. The cable also damages another house down the street at same time. Hence I have asked Telstra and Optus to remove ALL HFC cables to our house.
      2. HFC only works at the speeds quoted as long as there is only 1 house connected to the HFC cable. The more people that connect to HFC the slower it becomes. I had Telstra cable prior to this truck accident and the speeds were no where near what Telstra were stating as it is a shared cable running Foxtel and Internet. ADSL / ADSL 2 is faster than HFC cable.
  • No Saving

    Let's put it another way. After having promised to supply everyone with reliable fast transport by 2016 on a shoestring budget Malcolm's now cruising the used car & junkyards hoping to pick up a couple of bargain priced clunkers to 'do up.'
  • Website not working - or disabled!

    Another Government Website that will be removed!!

    At any time of the day, this message is coming up with the following message.

    "The map search is experiencing a lot of interest right now - please try again in a minute."

    Times tried at 5.00am, 5.30am, 6.30am, 7.50am - yeah right ....experiencing a lot of interest at these times - Sounds like the criticism of the Information on this site has resulted in the database being switched off.


  • Retrospect is a wonderful thing...

    ...when we have it, with respect to the NBN in 2016 it will become evident - you can polish a turd all you like, it's still a turd.

    It stands to reason, the more complexity, the less reliability.

    I have supported HFC connection for clients, I can tell you it's unreliable, sure some get reliable sync, others do not! How is that fair when in the end, we are all paying for it.

    The next election will send this bunch of amateurs packing for a decade