Comms minister still confident about HFC role in NBN

“Foot will be back on the accelerator” when HFC sales pause ends, Fifield says

Communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield has indicated he still supports the use of hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) in the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

NBN in November halted HFC sales while it worked to address performance problems.

“In order to meet a higher level of service quality, NBN Co will be performing advanced network testing and remediation where needed, wholesale connector replacements, signal amplification calibration, and lead-in work as required,” NBN said in its announcement.

The sales pause was the second major setback in NBN's use of HFC: In late 2016 the company announced it would largely ditch its plan to use the HFC infrastructure rolled out by Optus

In February this year, NBN CEO Bill Morrow said that work on improving HFC performance was “progressing quickly” but declined to offer a timeline for resuming sales. Last month NBN’s chief customer officer, residential, Brad Whitcomb, indicated that the company could be expected to detail the HFC relaunch in April.

“We are confident when the NBN pause is over and we hit the restart button, the HFC optimisation work will deliver a great experience,” Fifield today told the CommsDay Summit in Sydney.

“It will make for a much smoother migration for the remainder of that footprint.”

“Importantly the pause has allowed more in-fill lead-ins to be built, which will ultimately make the connection process less complicated,” the minister said.

“The flexibility of our multi-technology mix and Bill Morrow’s relentless focus have allowed the rollout to remain on track for completion in 2020.”

More than 6.4 million premises are ready to connect to the new network and there are more than 3.7 million homes and businesses with active NBN services, Fifield said.

“By the end of the year around three quarters of the nation will be able to get on to the NBN and the foot will be back on the accelerator following the pause in HFC sales,” the minister said.

“The HFC sales pause has clearly impacted this year’s activations profile and there will adjustments to the timing of revenue as a consequence,” he added.

Morrow in his February briefing on NBN’s first half results said he does not expect any “longer term implications” from the pause.

Fifield noted that NBN on Sunday formally launched its latest fixed-line technology, fibre to the curb (FTTC). FTTC is currently only offered in two suburbs, with NBN indicating that the limited release of the technology would allow the company to “optimise the customer experience”.

The communications minister used his speech to pay tribute to Morrow, who he said has done an “incredible job” since joining NBN in 2014 as its chief executive.

Morrow announced last week that he intends to leave NBN before the end of the year.

Fifield this morning also launched new research on the potential economic impact of 5G wireless technology.

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