Vodafone has finally launched its National Broadband Network (NBN) service across Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Geelong, and Newcastle, with the provider saying its 4G backup service has now become automated.
Vodafone's GM of Broadband Services Matthew Lobb told ZDNet that Vodafone "learned a lot" from its internal and external trials, including that it needed to be able to offer backup services faster while customers experienced delays or faults.
"Initially in the pilot, Vodafone would turn on the 4G service after some troubleshooting work with our customers," he explained.
"We changed that so the device will automatically move to 4G as soon as there's a fault ... there'll be no time when they're disconnected."
During the pilot period, Lobb told ZDNet that Vodafone connected customers via most of NBN's fixed-line technologies, with connection times varying from just minutes to a number of days.
"Most of the time, connections went smoothly and consistently with the appointment dates," he said.
In terms of faults once customers were connected, Lobb said the first 30 days of the service -- during which Vodafone is offering its 30-day network satisfaction guarantee -- is the most challenging time.
"That is a period where things can go wrong -- that's the fixed broadband challenge," he said.
"The faults we've experienced to date have been really about getting the connections right and up and running properly. We did see some situations where customers were connected and then they lost their service, and again the 4G backup proved to be really good."
Lobb told ZDNet that connecting customers to the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network -- which was last week halted while NBN makes an effort to fix problems causing customer dropouts -- saw more problems than its other fixed-line networks.
"We did observe that there were more challenges with connecting to the HFC ... so we understand NBN's decision to put a pause on selling HFC," he said.
"We think that there are some areas that do need improvement, and we're pleased that NBN is taking that challenge on board and are working hard to rectify it. It does mean a limit to our addressable market, but we prefer to have happy customers than not."
Most of Vodafone's trial NBN customers chose the 25Mbps speed tier, Lobb said, with Vodafone making sure "they understand 12/1 is basic".
"Because we've built our network and we have a small number of customers, customers generally got the speed experience that they were expecting," he added.
"[But] there were customers that we needed to work on."
According to Lobb, Vodafone has a mix of customers across all fixed-line technologies, although its Sydney and Melbourne footprint is largely HFC. However, he said customers "don't care" what they're connected by.
"The technology discussion is great for people in the industry, but what we got from when we talk to customers is they really don't care about the technology. They love what broadband does, but the main thing is they want it to work, and it's really not about the technology, it's about delivering a consistent and seamless experience, and so that's why we're bringing our 4G expertise into the fixed broadband mix," he said.
"We've got the customers' backs when it comes to the connection experience."
Vodafone will be progressively rolling out from its initial footprint "early next year", mainly in other metro areas, he told ZDNet.
Prior to Monday's launch, Vodafone had been selling by invitation only to customers who submitted an expression of interest earlier this year.
Under Vodafone's home broadband pricing, it will cost consumers AU$70 per month for 12Mbps download speeds; AU$80 for 25Mbps; AU$95 for 50Mbps; and AU$110 for 100Mbps, with all options available in 24-month and month-to-month options.
Business plans will cost AU$80 for 25Mbps; AU$95 for 50Mbps; and AU$110 for 100Mbps.
Vodafone is also offering 12/1Mbps services, although Lobb previously told ZDNet that it "won't be actively selling it".
Vodafone announced in October 2016 that it would be entering the NBN market as a retail service provider before the end of 2017, with CEO Inaki Berroeta saying the telco intends to be "the cornerstone of competition" in fixed-line broadband.
Despite its newly unveiled offerings including the lower speed tiers, Vodafone had previously argued that 12Mbps and 25Mbps should not even be offered on the NBN.
"Given taxpayers have funded a network which has been dimensioned to deliver speeds significantly faster than DSL, it is not clear that these low-speed tiers should even be on offer," Vodafone argued in its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the NBN.
"Since the majority of the costs of a fixed-line network are 'fixed costs' (ie, do not vary according to capacity or usage), once the NBN network is rolled out, there are only relatively modest additional costs to the NBN to offer higher speeds."
The decision by NBN to pause its HFC rollout while it repairs network issues will cost Telstra AU$600 million in EBITDA, AU$700 million in total income, AU$200 million in free cashflow, and AU$600 million in net one-off NBN receipts over FY18, the telco has said.
The HFC network works well in delivering Telstra broadband and Foxtel pay TV services, Andy Penn has said, with the issues cropping up once NBN began making technology changes to it.
Despite HFC being available from Telstra in Australia since last century, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has claimed the technology is less mature than fibre.
NBN CEO Bill Morrow has announced that NBN will be delaying its HFC network rollout until it can repair customer experience issues including dropouts.