August 21, 2017
NBN has unveiled plans for a commercial implementation of the DOCSIS 3.1 HFC standard across its network by the end of 2018, following a field trial of the technology to be conducted on its own cable network next February.
NBN revealed at its recent results presentation that its HFC footprint currently covers 850,000 premises that are ready for service, with 210,000 active cable users.
The DOCSIS 3.1 standard, an improvement on the current 3.0 specification, could vastly increase the speed of that HFC network footprint – and at a much lower capital cost than deploying FTTP. NBN announced in June that it had achieved download speeds of 1Gbps in Melbourne lab trials of the specification and experts have previously told CommsDay that speeds 8–10Gbps could be feasible when the additional co-axial spectrum is used.
Furthermore, full-duplex DOCSIS 3.1 — which could start becoming available at the end of 2018 — is expected to be capable of at least 10Gbps symmetrical speeds.
However, its commercial deployment is not expected until further into the future as it requires the introduction of active, powered electronics in nodes deeper into HFC networks.
At the time of the lab trials, NBN also said that a 2018 commercial launch of DOCSIS 3.1 would place NBN in a very small club of network operators outside of the US.
An NBN spokesman told CommsDay that the details of the field trial were still being finalised but that it was expected that DOCSIS 3.1 would be implemented at around four HFC nodes.
CommsDay understands that the firm is already deploying cable modem termination systems in exchanges that are compatible with the 3.1 specification, manufactured by US-headquartered cable equipment supplier Arris, that are currently running in 3.0 mode. To make the upgrade to 3.1 NBN will still need to run software upgrades on the CMTS equipment and install new upstream line cards. End users won’t be aware when NBN flicks the switch.
NBN, which has weathered criticism from some quarters for its switch from a predominantly FTTP network to the current “fibre to the most economic point” multitechnology mix, pointed to examples in the US where cable assets were being sweated as alternative to expensive FTTP deployments.
Arris networks VP Dan Whalen said that in the US upgrading HFC to match fibre required 30% to 50% lower investment – accounting for recent decisions by the likes of Google, Verizon and AT&T to be less bullish about optical technology.
“A lot of them have attempted to pull fibre in a specific market. They’ll do it surgically at this point. It’s not something (they have a financial appetite for) on a mass scale. You need to have the right subscribers that are willing to pay (for) the right service. HFC we find is 30% to 50% less of an investment to make to bring cable up to deliver the same types of services in the same market,” Whalen said.
HFC has been the stand out success story of the NBN multi technology mix to date. According to ACCC figures, 26% of HFC customers are taking a 50Mbps or 100Mbps plan, compared to 13% of FTTN customers and 19% of FTTP customers. This means that HFC is easily the highest ARPU earner on the NBN of the six core technologies being deployed.