NBN: More households to get FTTC instead of FTTN, HFC

HFC re-launch begins 27 April

Credit: NBN Co

More households and businesses that were previously earmarked for connection to the National Broadband Network with fibre to the node (FTTN) or hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) will now be hooked up using fibre to the curb (FTTC).

NBN announced today that some 440,000 premises had been added to its FTTC rollout plan. In total, some 1.5 million households and businesses will be connected using the technology under the revised blueprint.

The majority of the additional FTTC premises were originally planned to be connected using HFC. NBN said that the premises fell into two main categories: Those where the copper wiring required to connect them to an FTTN node would be too long to deliver adequate broadband performance and those that sit within the footprint of Telstra’s HFC network but do not already have HFC lead-ins.

NBN on Sunday announced the commercial availability of FTTC, launching in the Melbourne suburb of Coburg and the southern Sydney suburb of Miranda. The government-owned company said it had chosen to initially launch FTTC in a restricted footprint to ensure it could “optimise the customer experience”.

As with FTTN, FTTC relies on copper wiring. However, the copper lengths are much shorter: A copper pair runs from a home or business to a nearby telecoms pit; from there it connects to optical fibre via a distribution point unit (DPU) . Unlike FTTN it does not require a powered node; the necessary power for the connection is drawn from the premises.

FTTC was not part of the original ‘multi-technology mix’ (MTM) blueprint backed by the Coalition after it ousted Labor in the 2013 federal election. The fixed-line MTM was originally expected to comprise fibre to the premises (in greenfield areas and those where the roll out of FTTP had already begun), FTTN and HFC.

NBN in 2016 began trials using FTTC technology, which is also known as fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp). Later that year the company announced it would largely scrap its planned use of the HFC network rolled out by Optus — instead using FTTC to hook up some 700,000 premises. (It has continued to use the Telstra-constructed HFC infrastructure for parts of its access network, however.)

Since then the number of premises earmarked for FTTC has steadily increased. NBN’s 2016 corporate plan estimated the final network build would have 2.4 million premises connected with FTTP, 4.5 million with FTTN or fibre to the basement (FTTB) and 4 million with HFC.

NBN’s latest edition of the corporate plan, released in August last year,  put the mix at 2 million FTTP, 4.6 million FTTN/B, 1 million FTTC and 3.1 million HFC.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow previously indicated that the company has actively been looking at ways to cut the cost of FTTC in order to use the technology to connect more households. (The CEO last week announced he would leave NBN before the end of the year.)

NBN also revealed today that the sale of HFC services would begin from 27 April.

NBN announced in November that it would pause the sale of new HFC services 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 at the time.

“We are confident when the NBN pause is over and we hit the restart button, the HFC optimisation work will deliver a great experience,” communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield said in a speech yesterday.

“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.

NBN said it would undertake a phased release of HFC-connected premises, beginning with 1000 homes in Melbourne and Sydney. By the end of June NBN plans to have released some 38,000 HFC premises in parts of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. From July, the company said it would begin to accelerate the release of HFC premises, eventually hitting around 100,000 a month.

“We are pleased with the improvements seen from the additional work undertaken while sales have been paused on the HFC network. We expect to see an uplift in customer experience as a result of these improvements,” Morrow said in a statement.

“We are also excited to announce we will be expanding FTTC to cover an additional 440,000 in areas where some long-copper FTTN and new HFC lead-ins were previously planned.”

The network rollout is on track for completion by 2020, the CEO said.

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