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NBN launching DOCSIS 3.1 for HFC network in second half of 2017

In response to an Ovum report that said HFC networks rival fibre on performance, NBN has said it will deploy DOCSIS 3.1 technology before the end of next year.

Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) company has revealed that it will launch Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.1 services on its hybrid fibre-coaxial (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.

"We are already seeing some technology vendors dipping their toes into the full duplex DOCSIS waters and getting incredible results with a trial by Nokia in April delivering a blistering 10Gbps symmetrical speeds over 100 metres of coaxial cable under lab conditions -- and we have barely even left the starting gate.

"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.

"Although not required in every instance, the deployment of DOCSIS 3.1 equipment is being used to support the launch of Gigabit broadband services," the report noted.

"With the release of the first certified cable modems at the beginning of the year, 2016 is set to feature the first wave of upgrades."

"The upgrade path for HFC does not stop with DOCSIS 3.1, with CableLabs and vendors continuing to develop the road map to improve product capability and network efficiency. CableLabs is currently undertaking a feasibility study into adding a full duplex capability to the DOCSIS standard. This capability will use noise cancelling solutions to allow upstream and downstream signalling across the same spectrum, rather than requiring the spectrum to be split.

"This would make available substantially more spectrum for upstream traffic and enable service providers to offer symmetrical services. The DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1 standards currently constrain the spectrum allocated to upstream traffic with upper bounds of 85MHz and 204MHz, respectively. This compares to spectrum allocations for downstream traffic of 1GHz or more in current deployments, and result in the asymmetric services available today. CableLabs is expected to commence the standardisation process for full duplex mid-2016."

NBN itself hailed full duplex DOCSIS when it was unveiled by worldwide HFC technology standards group CableLabs in February, saying it would allow symmetrical multi-gigabit speeds for users.

In comparison to frequency-division duplex (FDD) and time-division duplex (TDD), full duplex DOCSIS sees both downstream and upstream traffic share the same spectrum. Symmetrical multi-gigabit broadband services are hence made possible through DOCSIS 3.1 technology when combined with full duplex DOCSIS.

"Although it is still very early days, the arrival of full duplex DOCSIS 3.1 is extremely exciting news for NBN, and a real game-changing moment in the ultra-fast broadband market," Steiger said at the time.

"We will be working closely with CableLabs to track the development of this technology, and are excited about the potential this offers for the 4 million premises that will receive their NBN services via our HFC network."

Overall, the Ovum report found that HFC networks "will be able to continue to compete as investments in fibre (FttP, FttB, and FttN) challenge".

"Network performance by HFC now rivals fibre platforms, with HFC operators enabling substantial increases in download speeds over the last five years," the report said.

"By leveraging the existing DOCSIS 3.0 HFC infrastructure, NBN will facilitate the acceleration of its rollout, minimise capital works, minimise truck rolls, appointments, and need for entry into premises, and so deliver world-leading broadband services while managing cost of deployment. With the development road map for HFC, NBN and Australia's broadband uses can have great confidence that as broadband requirements continue to grow, the HFC network will be more than capable of meeting expectations."

The report also compared the internet technologies being used in the United States, Western Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Australia, with case studies of Comcast in the US, Virgin Media in the United Kingdom, Com Hem in Sweden, and Rogers in Canada.

Through the global examinations, Ovum found that HFC subscribers worldwide will increase by 23 percent over a period of five years, from 152 million in 2015 to 187 million in 2020, to retain 19 percent of the global broadband market.

"In the US, average cable download speeds, as measured on behalf of the FCC, have improved from 12Mbps to 40Mbps," the report noted.

"A similar improvement has been reported in the UK, with cable speeds averaging over 70Mbps in November 2015."

Ovum found that HFC will also increase or maintain its market share across the US, Europe, and Latin America.

NBN declared its first HFC network ready for service last month, with retail service providers (RSPs) able to connect 18,800 premises located in Redcliffe, Queensland, as of June 30.

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 DOCSIS 3.0.

Last week, 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.