NBN Co is preparing for a launch of a wholesale Hybrid Fibre/Coax fast broadband product in 2015.
The company has issued a discussion paper to Retail Service Providers (RSPs) outlining the product and providing details of the role that HFC infrastructure will play in the Coalition’s multi-platform NBN model.
The 2013 Strategic Review of the NBN proposed that HFC be used to provide fast broadband to some 2.6 million premises by the end of 2016 with the number rising to 3.3 million by the end of 2020.
Reaching these targets will involve undertaking capacity upgrades to provide more bandwidth as more customers come on board, HFC being a shared spectrum platform. The paper confirms that NBN Co will also in-fill gaps in the current combined Telstra and Optus HFC footprint and provide new drops to premises that are currently passed by but not connected to HFC.
The extent of these works would appear to be considerable. According to the 2013 Strategic Review, nearly 1 million premises within the 3.3 million target group are either not passed or passed but not connected. It can safely be assumed however that virtually all of them are connected to Telstra copper.
This raises the question of whether it is actually more economical for NBN Co to service these premises by HFC or by FTTN/B especially as the new model also involves purchasing the required HFC assets as opposed to compensating the current owners for the transfer of customers.
Speed is an issue, but with the capacities of copper being constantly expanded by new technologies it is not obvious that HFC will guarantee a better customer experience.
The costs of the proposed HFC upgrades were blacked out of the 2013 Strategic Review. It remains to be seen whether the next Corporate Plan will shed more light on these questions.