NBN launches HFC services on former Telstra network in WA

The first Telstra HFC network acquired by NBN has been declared ready for service, joining the former Optus HFC network launched in June.

The company rolling out Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) has announced launching the first network services across Telstra's former hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network in Ocean Reef, Western Australia, with 2,300 premises now ready for service.

Ocean Reef joins the 18,800 premises in Redcliffe, Queensland, that NBN declared ready for service on the former Optus HFC network at the end of last month.

"A massive amount of work has been done with Telstra, our delivery partners, our technology vendors, and our customers to be able to get here," said NBN chief customer officer John Simon.

"It is worth remembering that we will actually be one of the first operators in the world to deliver open access wholesale services over an HFC network, so we have broken a lot of new ground in these last couple of years, and now that hard work will pay off for our customers and end users."

The NBN in its current multi-technology mix (MTM) state plans to have almost 900,000 premises ready for service on the HFC network by June next year, and 200,000 of these activated.

While NBN said users will be able to order 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload services from retail service providers (RSPs), a trial of the technology in February saw users attain 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 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.

"There has been huge debate about the various technologies that we are using to build the NBN, but with the recent very exciting developments around new technologies like DOCSIS 3.1 and the gigabit speeds ... people have begun to understand what a fantastic asset HFC networks will be for Australia," Simon added on Friday.

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.

Last week, NBN announced that it will launch DOCSIS 3.1 services on its HFC network during the second half of 2017, with the information revealed in response to an Ovum research report into HFC.

"The HFC speed train is only going to get faster as newer technologies such as full duplex DOCSIS become available and unleash incredible speeds onto legacy cable networks," NBN CTO Dennis Steiger said last week.

"At NBN, we are planning to launch our DOCSIS 3.1 services in the second half of next year, and we have a keen eye on other new emerging technologies such as full duplex DOCSIS because of the extraordinary potential that it offers."

Ovum's report -- HFC: Delivering Gigabit Broadband Cable broadband in the Gigabit era -- was commissioned by NBN "to provide an overview of HFC evolution, the market environment, and technology enhancements", in an effort to examine the upgrade paths, speeds, and prevalence of HFC around the world.

Overall, Ovum found that cable-based HFC services "currently compare well" to fibre-based services, including across the categories of downstream speed, upstream speed, latency, packet loss, and actual performance versus advertised performance.

Ovum particularly pointed towards HFC's upgrade path -- DOCSIS 3.1 and full duplex DOCSIS -- as giving the network technology more value.

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 total, HFC will connect more than 3 million Australian premises, with the majority 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 (FttP) 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, fibre to the basement, and fibre to the distribution point; 34 percent with HFC; 5 percent with fixed-wireless; and 3 percent with satellite services.

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.

Earlier this month, NBN also announced signing multi-technology integrated master agreements (MIMAs) with Lend Lease, Broadspectrum, Fulton Hogan, Downer, ISGM, and BSA to carry out HFC construction from August.

The deal is understood to be worth around AU$300 million for the first year.