NBN HFC ready for service in Redcliffe

The HFC network in Redcliffe, Queensland, will provide download speeds of up to 100Mbps, with retail service providers now able to offer services to end users.

The first National Broadband Network (NBN) hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network is ready for service, with retail service providers (RSPs) now able to connect 18,800 premises located in Redcliffe, Queensland.

The NBN in its current multi-technology mix (MTM) state plans to have 875,000 premises ready for service on the HFC network by mid next year, and 200,000 of these activated.

While NBN said users will be able to attain peak wholesale speeds of 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload, a trial of the technology in February saw average speeds of 84Mbps down/33Mbps up.

The 4,500-premises HFC trial in Redcliffe was conducted from November until February, and saw RSPs Telstra, iiNet, and Exetel deliver HFC services across the Optus HFC network running Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.0 technology.

NBN has noted that node splitting, to decrease the number of premises sharing a fibre-optic node and therefore increasing bandwidth for those on the node, could improve these speeds in future, as could the implementation of DOCSIS 3.1 technology.

"The HFC pilot results are very encouraging as we look to ensure that our HFC end users are able to access the same speed tiers from their RSPs as our fibre-to-the-premise[s] (FttP) end users, with wholesale speed offerings up to 100Mbps downstream and 40Mbps upstream," NBN said.

"On our HFC pilot, we were using the current generation DOCSIS 3.0 technology, but from mid-2017, we plan to deploy next-generation DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which is capable of wholesale downstream speeds of 10Gbps and wholesale upload speeds of 1Gbps."

DOCSIS 3.1 supersedes the current DOCSIS 3.0 standard, allowing for faster speeds by freeing up around 50 percent capacity on the cable through more efficient transmission of data over the available spectrum.

A Q&A on DOCSIS 3.1, published on the website of Australian Communications Minister cum Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a year ago, said the technology would be coming to the NBN HFC network by 2017.

"We plan to run DOCSIS 3.1 trials in 2016, and we plan to have DOCSIS 3.1 services commercially available in 2017," Turnbull wrote.

"Bringing DOCSIS 3.1 on board is the cherry on the cake that will give us even more capacity and really make sure that there is plenty of bandwidth for everyone on the network to have a great experience."

The wide-scale rollout of NBN HFC was approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in June 2015, with a revised AU$11 billion deal allowing NBN to take ownership of Telstra's HFC and copper assets and Optus' HFC network.

In April, NBN awarded Telstra a AU$1.6 billion contract to provide design and management services of the HFC network until 2020. It also signed a memorandum of understanding with Telstra in December that saw Telstra pick up design, engineering, procuring, and construction within the HFC network, as well as undertaking to upgrade the HFC network to DOCSIS 3.1.

In total, HFC will connect 4 million Australian premises, with 3.6 million of these coming from the old Telstra HFC network. The network will also be extended and infilled, after a leaked NBN draft in November revealed that Optus' HFC network is "not fully fit for purpose", with 470,000 premises in the footprint needing to be overbuilt by either Telstra HFC or fibre services.

NBN's acquisition of Telstra and Optus' HFC networks was a result of NBN moving away from Labor's full fibre-to-the-premises rollout following the Coalition's election at the end of 2013 to the MTM, which proposes to cover 20 percent of the population with FttP; 38 percent with fibre to the node and fibre to the basement; 34 percent with HFC; 5 percent with fixed-wireless; and 3 percent with satellite services.

There has been debate about the usefulness of the HFC network, with several minor parties wanting to abandon that rollout in favour of more fibre to the premises should they be elected on July 2.

Fuelling this debate over broadband technologies, NBN chief architect Tony Cross resigned from the company with less than a week until the federal election.

"Tony has been with NBN for more than six years, and leaves us with a long list of achievements," an NBN representative said.

"We expect to see him continue to make his mark in the industry, and wish him well."