NBN Preps for HFC Network Launch

Having successfully concluded its trial of broadband service over hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) links, NBN aims to launch commercial service over that cable network in June.

NBN Co Ltd. -- the government-backed entity that is taking over control of Australia's privately built broadband networks under deals struck with Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) and Optus Administration Pty. Ltd. and developing them as open-access networks for other, "retail" providers -- announced those plans Monday while also revealing the HFC trial results. The company said it intends to launch broadband service over HFC lines in Redcliffe, Queensland in June, as a complement to its FTTP, FTTN, satellite and fixed wireless networks in other parts of the country. As part of its multi-technology approach, NBN plans to cover about 28% of its total potential footprint of 12.4 million premises with HFC lines.

In an apparent switch from its earlier blueprint, however, NBN now intends to leverage DOCSIS 3.0 technology, not the newer DOCSIS 3.1 technology, in its initial rollout of broadband service to Australian homes and businesses. Instead of launching DOCSIS 3.1 service in March, as originally planned, it now intends to wait until the second half of 2017 to offer even faster data service under the new DOCSIS spec. (See NBN Takes DOCSIS 3.1 Down Under.).

Want to learn more about DOCSIS 3.1 and other new cable technologies? Then sign up now for Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies, taking place at the Cable Center in Denver on Thursday, March 10.

NBN officials explained that they will actually launch DOCSIS 3.0 service in June with a DOCSIS 3.1-enabled CCAP device (the E6000 platform from Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS)) and DOCSIS 3.1-enabled cable modems. But they will only be offering DOCSIS 3.0 speeds because the DOCSIS 3.1 upstream line cards for the E6000 platform will not be available until the second half of 2017, making it impossible for the operator to offer the multi-gigabit speeds that D3.1 enables before then.

As a result, NBN will offer maximum wholesale speeds of 100 Mbit/s downstream and 40 Mbit/s upstream to retail providers when it launches DOCSIS 3.0 service in June. Those are the same peak speeds that it offered during the two-month trial over the Optus HFC network in Redcliffe, which ran from late November through late January. In that trial, which leveraged Arris' E6000 CCAP/CMTS chassis and DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems, the operator reported achieving average peak speeds of 84 Mbit/s downstream and 33 Mbit/s upstream to end users. Three retail service providers (RSPs) -- Telstra, iiNet and Exeter -- participated in the trial.

In a fresh blog post, NBN executives boasted that the trial's peak upstream speeds were the third highest seen in the world, behind only com hem AB in Sweden and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) in Switzerland. "Indeed," they wrote, "our achievement in offering wholesale upload speeds of 40 Mbit/s is particularly impressive as very few HFC operators around the world offer upload speeds as fast as this."

What will be interesting to see now is how many, and which, Australian retail providers end up opting into NBN's open access model. It will also be interesting to see how much each of the providers charges for the service.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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