HFC NBN just fine for Telepresence: Cisco

'HFC is the right option for the country,' says Cisco vice president, Ken Boal

Cisco vice president of ANZ, Ken Boal

Cisco vice president of ANZ, Ken Boal

Cisco has endorsed using hybrid-fibre cable (HFC) as a more expedient way to connect 3 million homes to Australia’s National Broadband Network.

"HFC is the right option for the country,” Ken Boal, Cisco vice president for ANZ, told media at the Cisco Live conference in Melbourne.

“It’s faster to deploy because the infrastructure is already there ... for 3 million homes,” he said. “It’s therefore much more cost-effective to deploy. We believe that 3 million homes in a very relatively short period of time, and it’s less than four years.”

The statement supports the Coalition government and NBN Co's proposal to use HFC as part of a multi-technology approach to rolling out the NBN. The previous Labor government had backed an all fibre-to-the-premises plan.

Boal said that poor broadband capability could be a contributing factor to slowing growth of Cisco’s video business, which he said has plateaued in the Australian market. Cisco has a tough time selling bandwidth-demanding video services like Telepresence to Australian homes served with insufficient Internet services like ADSL.

“To get high-definition video working reliably with business applications in the home is very difficult,” said Boal. “No matter how good your residential broadband service is, [with] the contention ratio of that link, it’s damn hard.”

The NBN could change all that, he said.

“We haven’t seen anything yet in terms of residential video, so what NBN will enable is a new opportunity for residential video B2C,” said Boal. Cisco envisions a range of B2C video applications for healthcare, education and financial wealth management, he said.

That relationship between broadband and video takeup has been seen in other countries, said Geoff Lawrie, Cisco country manager for New Zealand. In Norway, for example, affordable access to high-speed broadband strongly drove video penetration in the home, he said.

Unlike fibre, HFC is an asymmetric technology with download speeds that greatly exceed its upload speeds. However, Boal said Cisco believes HFC will still be effective for its videoconferencing services.

The contention ratios and backhaul for HFC “are more than adequate,” he said. “We would [not] be putting HFC forward as a credible alternative if we thought there was backhaul constraints in the platform.”

In addition, he said a newly released video codec, H.265, will offer compressed 1080p video at 1Mbps, bringing higher quality video at lower requirements.

Boal said Cisco is looking at other ways “kickstart” adoption of video. “The collaborative workplaces still aren’t as flexible and … we could still do a bit better.”

“For example, the price point of the existing platforms – it’s quite cost prohibitive to have a high-definition quality experience in the home or every office.”

In addition, Cisco has been working to make videoconferencing in large rooms more natural, with multiple cameras that can detect and zoom in on whoever is speaking, he said.

Adam Bender flew to Melbourne as a guest of Cisco.

Adam covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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