NBN ditches Optus HFC for FTTdp

Up to 700,000 premises to receive fibre to the distribution point

NBN will not be using Optus’ hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) assets outside of the one area — Redcliffe in Queensland — where they are currently used to provide National Broadband Network connections. Instead the company has announced it will proceed with a larger rollout of fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp) in the areas within the Optus HFC footprint.

Up to 700,000 premises are expected to be connected using FTTdp. Optus has welcomed the decision.

FTTdp, also called fibre to curb, involves rolling out optical fibre significantly closer to end users’ premises than the fibre to the node (FTTN) technology used elsewhere in the network, but like FTTN employs copper phonelines for the final connection to a home or business.

NBN has conducted trials in Sydney and Melbourne of FTTdp technology. However, previously it has said it would most likely be used to hook up some 300,000 premises — mostly in areas where FTTN would not be cost effective because of the difficulty of providing power to the nodes.

The condition of Optus’ HFC network has been a source of controversy. Under the original NBN blueprint, fibre to the premises (FTTP) would be used to hook up all households within the network’s fixed-line footprint. However, under the revised ‘multi-technology mix’ approach championed by Malcolm Turnbull, areas covered by the telcos’ cable TV networks were originally expected to be connected via HFC.

A leaked internal NBN document circulated by Labor in late 2015 revealed that the Optus HFC network was not “fully fit for purpose” in all areas and that some 470,000 premises within its footprint may have to be overbuilt using either FTTx technologies or Telstra’s HFC network.

Some Optus equipment is approaching its end of life, Optus HFC nodes are oversubscribed and existing Optus cable modem termination systems didn’t have enough capacity for NBN services, the document said.

The document was one of a series of leaked internal documents that led to an Australian Federal Police raid targetting the office of Labor Senator Stephen Conroy.

NBN has forged ahead with use of the Telstra HFC network. NBN has said it is on track to have 900,000 premises able to HFC services by late June next year. Under a $1.6 billion agreement with Telstra signed in April, the telco will take charge of the planning, design and management for the bulk of the HFC rollout, including managing half a dozen construction partners.

In August, NBN released an updated corporate plan that saw the number of premises expected to be connected via hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) cut from 4 million to 2.5-3.2 million.

The updated plan said that NBN expected to see FTTN, fibre to the basement (FTTB) and FTTdp used to connect 5.1-6.5 million homes, up from 4.5 million in the previous edition of the corporate plan.

“We had originally circled a number of homes — about 4 million — to be slated for HFC,” NBN CEO Bill Morrow said at the time. “That now is down in to a range of 2.5 million to 3.2 million. Now many of those have shifted over into the FTTN/B/dp environment.”

The previous corporate plan said the expected cost per premise for HFC was $1800 — the updated plan said NBN expected it to be $2300, putting it level with FTTN (but cheaper than FTTP connections in brownfields areas, which come in at $4400).

“We have tested FTTdp over the last year and we're confident we can now deploy the technology in areas where it makes better sense from a customer experience, deployment efficiency and cost perspective,” NBN chief network engineering officer, Peter Ryan, said in a statement released today.

“This includes premises in the FTTN footprint that have too high a cost per premises and premises served solely by the legacy Optus HFC footprint that are yet to be made ready for service.”

“HFC remains a highly valued part of our MTM deployment, however in balancing the requirements to convert Optus’s current network architecture and design to be nbn-ready, and the opportunity to introduce FTTdp, makes the new technology compelling in these selected areas,” Ryan said.

Today’s announcement means that NBN will pay for the Optus HFC assets used Redcliffe, but won’t purchase the right to use any more of the telco’s cable TV infrastructure. Under revised deals negotiated with the telcos in late 2014 NBN had the option of using elements of the HFC networks for its rollout.

Depending on the outcome of the rollout within the Optus HFC footprint, FTTdp could potentially see a wider deployment.

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