NBN Co hits gigabit HFC downloads with in-field DOCSIS 3.1 trial

Approaches gigabit upload speeds in lab trial

NBN Co says it hit speeds of up to 994 megabits per second over a hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) connection during an in-field trial of DOCSIS 3.1 technology.

The trial, staged in the Melbourne suburb of Templestowe, didn’t employ a retail service provider’s network. Instead it involved a Layer 2 connection directly between the home and the local NBN Point of Interconnect.

NBN Co said that non-NBN Telstra services were still being served from the optical node used in the trial.

NBN Co in August last year begun upgrading its HFC infrastructure to support DOCSIS 3.1. The eventual launch of ultra-fast services using DOCSIS 3.1 will require the replacement of the NBN boxes in some HFC-connected households as well as extensive product development work, and the company has no short-term plan to offer a gigabit HFC product.

The government-owned network operator in 2015 first revealed it intended to use DOCSIS 3.1 to provide an eventual gigabit upgrade pathway for HFC services. In mid-2017 it conducted lab trials of the standard, with an eye to launching field trials later that year.

NBN Co also revealed today it had achieved upload speeds of 988Mbps in a recent DOCSIS 3.1 lab test.

“This is an important day for NBN,” NBN Co’s chief technology officer, Ray Owen, said in a statement released by the company. “It shows how a specific technology – HFC – is evolving to meet customer demand for greater capacity from their broadband connection over time.”

“It’s good news for both residential and business customers using HFC as we have demonstrated both the wholesale download and upload capacity of this technology,” Owen said.

“As we work to complete our network rollout, we’re constantly looking at what’s over the horizon for all of our technology assets and how we can evolve our network as demand grows.”

NBN Co has previously highlighted the potential speeds of full duplex communication over HFC connections using DOCSIS 3.1, which could offer symmetrical wholesale speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second for HFC networks. (In 2017 NBN Co became the first Oceania-based company to join the CableLabs R&D body, which develops standards for cable networks.)

NBN Co officially launched HFC services in mid-2016. After the government pushed NBN Co to shift to a multi-technology mix (MTM) following the 2013 election, the company struck agreements with Telstra and Optus to take progressive ownership of their HFC networks.

The rollout of the technology has not been smooth. In 2015, Labor seized on leaked internal NBN documents, which described the Optus network as not “fully fit for purpose” in all areas where it was expected to be used, to criticise the MTM rollout.

Then in September 2016, mere months after HFC NBN services made their commercial debut, the NBN Co announced it planned to dump its plan to use Optus’ HFC infrastructure (with the exception of a single suburb in Queensland).

Instead NBN Co said it would use fibre to the curb (FTTC) to hook up households that had been slated to receive HFC connections based on the aging Optus infrastructure.

The decision to ditch the planned use of the Optus cable network was not the only setback for NBN Co’s rollout. In November 2017 NBN Co’s then-CEO Bill Morrow announced that the company was pausing sales of HFC services while it sought to address problems encountered by end users, including frequent dropouts. It wasn’t until late April 2018 that NBN Co ended the ‘pause’ and began declaring more HFC-connected households ready to connect to its network.

In August last year NBN Co said that the pause had had a $700 million impact on its revenue, though the company claimed that it was just a shift in revenue that wouldn’t have a long-term effect on its ability to eventually turn a profit.

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Tags broadbandNetworkingnbn coTelecommunicationsNational Broadband Network (NBN)Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC)

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