NBN Strategic Review misrepresents HFC adoption



blog Those of you who’ve actually read the National Broadband Network Company’s Strategic Review document will be aware that, as I wrote in late December (Delimiter 2.0 link), it’s actually surprisingly favourable to use cases involving ubiquitous fibre broadband being deployed around Australia. Although it’s the Coalition’s preferred HFC/Fibre to the Node-focused ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ approach which has gotten all the airplay, in actual fact the document itself is quite positive to the use of Fibre to the Premises on its own merits. Telco commentator David Braue reminds us of this fact in a well-written piece for ZDNet. Braue writes (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“Consider the repeated use of the phrase ‘super-fast HFC’, which appears several times in the document … The nomenclature ‘superfast’ appears to have been suborned from IDATE, a French thinktank that tracks the global FTTX marketplace and whose IDATE FTTX Watch Service 2013 is cited in the Strategic Review document to support the government’s well-worn bon mot that FttP is a technology well past its prime and HFC is a much better option … The thing is: this is bunkum, as a reading of the actual IDATE FTTx Watch 2013 document makes very clear.”

Braue’s contention is essentially that the NBN Strategic Review does contain a lot of hard facts about the different telecommunications technologies used to provide broadband, but that NBN Co and the Government have chosen to focus on those facts which support their case. I agree. As I wrote in December in my Delimiter 2.0 piece:

“Turnbull also said this week about the NBN: “We have a brutally independent and honest appraisal of where the project is now and what its realistic options are for the future. None of it makes for pretty reading. But the days of spin are over, the days of clear thinking, truth telling and hard work have begun.”

However, from my point of view, this is untrue. The days of spin have just begun. NBN Co’s Strategic Review can be read however you want to read it. In this article, I’ve put a positive spin on the revitalised FTTP approach detailed in the document. NBN Co itself has taken a negative spin on that approach and focused on its preferred ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ method, as has Turnbull. Both might be viable, although I have severe doubts about the ability of anyone to transform the HFC cable networks as NBN Co envisages in its report.

However, when you set spin aside, only one path will deliver sustainable telecommunications infrastructure to Australia over the next 50 to 100 years. And that approach is Fibre to the Premises. It’s a fact everyone knows, and that’s the fact we should be focusing on. NBN Co’s Strategic Report once again shows that it is a viable path. So let’s walk down it and stop wasting our time on lesser alternatives.”

Image credit: Commonly used Internet meme


  1. Let’s be honest, this entire fiasco makes my blood boil.
    But there is no stopping liberals, they are set in their ways and ideals and no one can tell them different.

    I’d be happy if they just drop the entire bloody thing and let Labour pick up the slack in three years.

  2. 3 years and 4 months ago “I’m no tech head Kerry” ordered Mr Fraudband to demolish the NBN, (it’s is just largesse for porn downloaders, gamers and cyber criminals).
    Nothing’s changed it’s still the policy, the pre-election NBN Foxtel appearance was just to scam the general public.
    The Conalition backtrackers are just going to slowly find problem after problem and expense after expense and wear the Australian public down, whilst then giving the alternative in the budget as either an NBN or massive cuts in welfare.
    The Conalition and Mr Fraudband will backtrack to “I’m no tech head Kerry’s” default position.

  3. The Liberal Philosophy: If I talk long enough and loud enough, I can do anything.

    To bad it is working!

    Can we please call FTTP, Ultra-Mega-Fast Broadband?

  4. There’s some extremely misleading “facts” in the review, as the NBN Alliance has crowd-sourced much of already. This is one of them.

    I didn’t even have to get the bookmarks of my own research out to call bullshit on the line about FTTX being overshadowed by HFC globally. Of course it is….because the US has about 220 million people (about 80 million households) connected to it by default, as compared to only 5-10 million up and coming FTTH/B/N connections now being rolled out. That doesn’t mean HFC is better, or being built more. Simply that there are more existing connections. But that’s not how the review phases it.

    The problem as I see it is, the only real way to influence the decision now is the Senate Committee….but this government have made it clear they won’t follow recommendations from Senate Committees anyway.

    As far as I can see right now, we’re all at the mercy of Telstra’s decision over price for renegotiation as to what happens next for the CBN….as many of us have been saying for 2 years….

    • As far as I can see right now, we’re all at the mercy of Telstra’s decision over price for renegotiation as to what happens next for the CBN….as many of us have been saying for 2 years….

      Yup +1

      • Which won’t be finalised for another 2 years, coincidently JUST before the next election. Unfortunately, in pushing the MTM the Noalition will have to slow down the FTTP to make it look continually less successful – justifying the need to continue driving the MTM.

        Only those with T$ shares will benefit from this. Disclosure; Which I am by the way, a share holder through a fund manager. But I still think the CBN MTM model is very wrong.

  5. +1 for Ultra-Mega-Fast Broadband.

    If we are fighting a spin war, we may as well crank up the RPM.

  6. To be honest; it may be better to just structurally separate Telstra, buy the backhaul and copper off them and then auction it off to everyone else with a shared services agreement.

    Fracture the hell out of the market, and then areas that want to move ahead with fibre can. Areas that want cable/HFC or FTTP or nothing at all could do that too.

    • A pointless exercise. Telstra will simply overbuild to maintain and or extend market share.

      You can expect a conga-line of infrastructure owners all wanting to deploy their flavour of internet, just as we have now. A fractured market that has some serious competition issues, along with a bunch of different networks than can be complicated to switch between.

      A slightly faster version of the status quo. Awesome.

      This is partly why the NBNco (and eventually Telstra) went down the road it did – an acceptable outcome that allowed NBNco to actually survive, and Telstra drew enough blood to not contest that change.

      It effectively achieved the same outcome – gained lease of infrastructure, Telstra move services to NBNco and the copper is made redundant; no particular risk of overbuild. All that was left was to build the damn thing.

      And now we have a Minister desperate to paint HFC as better than fibre. Never mind the FTTN confusion..

      NBNco will be unlikely to survive an infrastructure war (no government would fund an ongoing fight with Telstra and Optus) and we end up right where we started.

      I don’t even..

      • there wont be a conga line. it will be a rather short list, in fact, with a good likelihood of being only one or two.

        i was reading some more on the US market the other night and it was depressing – this one in fact:


        the outcomes for rural areas are a joke – and while MT has made a token nod in the direction of modernising rural comms anything that winds up looking remotely like this i personally think aint going to do it.

        the more and more it gets looked into the less and less cheaper or faster this new outfit is. there are pre election calls they arent anywhere near being able to fulfil… if it truly were left up to nonpartisan engineers we wouldnt be having this discussion, but despite having fucked up telcoms since Telstra privatisation, we evidently arent done making messes yet…

  7. Honestly, at this point pushing via the Senate is probably the only way to have a check placed on this ridiculous desire to circle the drain looking for ANY solution that isn’t FTTH, or even now FTTN.

    Whilst the Senate can’t do that much to stymie the Government, the NBNco is still, iirc expected to front up to Committee meetings, and have been compelled to do so. That’s still a bit of a lever for change.

    Which is, perhaps, why there’s been literally no action (apart from coasting along with existing FTTH builds). Turnbull is almost certainly going to wait until a potentially more malleable Senate is in session.

    “Faster, Cheaper!” < headdesk />

  8. But, as Renai kept telling us, we were ‘guaranteed’ 25mbps _minimum_ under the LNP. Everyone.


    You gonna delete this comment, too?

      • Because you deleted comments and banned people that claim the Coalition could not guarentee those speeds.

        • The Coalition made an election promise of certain speeds. The evidence available at the time showed they could deliver on that promise. I reported that because that’s what the situation was.

          Yes, I deleted comments where people claimed the Coalition’s policy was impossible to deliver. Because they didn’t provide enough evidence of their argument and just kept on screaming at everyone about it. That’s consistent with Delimiter’s comments policy.

          Since that time, new evidence has been released showing that, as the Coalition itself admits, it cannot deliver on its election promises. Accordingly, I have reported that, because that’s what the situation is.

          Were the people who said the Coalition’s policy was impossible to deliver right? Yes, they were. However, they didn’t provide enough evidence for their argument. Delimiter is an evidence-based site, as I’ve repeated hundreds of times.

          I’m sorry, but you can’t just come here and claim that I, a politician, or anybody else is wrong without providing sufficient evidence. I saw a thousand micro-arguments arguing why the Coalition could not deliver its policy. However, none of those were big enough or detailed enough to be a deal-breaker.

          I hope this makes sense.

          If it doesn’t make sense to you, then I encourage you to start your own site and find out for yourself just how complex it is to do a good job of technology journalism in Australia. You may find it’s less of a black and white situation than you believe.

          • With all due respect Renai, it is not up to us to ‘provide evidence’ for the non-existence of something, it is up to those claiming the existence of something to demonstrate it is a reasonable, credible and factual claim. The LNP provided zero evidence prior to the election demonstrating that their claim of universal 25mbps minimum was credible or reasonable, let alone factual. As Carl Sagan used to say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and they didn’t even have basic evidence; just empty claims, conjecture, misinformation and obfuscation (where they weren’t simply lying and outright attacking the alternative for the sake of it).

            As I must have said dozens of times on this website alone, until it was enshrined in legislation it was an empty election promise they could, would and did simply go back on. Your position wasn’t that the LNP had ‘claimed’ they intended to deliver 25mbps and had good evidence to back it up, you said it was a guarantee, like it was set in stone; you ignored arguments demonstrating the lack of evidence provided by the LNP, you claimed that FTTN was a viable technology internationally, completely ignoring the fact that there is no international example of FTTN delivering universal 25mbps minimum performance, let alone running over higher gauge (thinner) cable like we commonly have here.

            You also consistently ignored my argument that the LNP’s proposal (and the debate generally) was not a technology debate – it was and is a policy debate. It is possible to provide FTTN to 100% of Australians at 100mbps minimum if you like, but it would take 30 years and cost half a trillion dollars (at least), so it’s ridiculous. You cannot discuss the technology in isolation, it must incorporate all aspects of the policy. Many people pointed out that it was impossible to meet the claims the LNP were making with the time frame and budget they were talking about – the maths, the facts, the engineering simply didn’t stack up.

            So the LNP’s claims were extraordinary, they had no evidence for them, and they didn’t guarantee their ‘guarantee’ against anything – they didn’t pass legislation, they didn’t even propose any legislation, they didn’t sign any sort of undertaking or personal guarantee. So the continued persistence in claiming that it was ‘guaranteed’ was factually incorrect – it was an election promise, with very bad odds of ever eventuating.

            What you should have done (IMHO) was call it as it was (a claim) and continue to question the LNP about its unsubstantiated claims – the closest they came was Turnbull’s claim that he had had discussions with executives of big networking companies. Which again was meaningless, not just because he provided no facts, but because executives are essentially glorified sales people. He needed engineering reports, case studies and proofs of concept for it to be meaningful.

            He had none of that. You had none of that. And you honestly believe the burden of proof was on those decrying such unbelievable, extraordinary and unsubstantiated claims? Seriously? And you call this an evidence based site?

            Look Renai, you’re right – this is your site and you can say and do whatever you like. But you can’t have it both ways – you can’t call it an evidence based site and then ignore inconvenient evidence while simultaneously ignoring the lack of any evidence on the other side of the debate. You can’t claim that you respect and appreciate the participation of your readers and knowledgeable experts when you censor their comments without warning when they disagree with you or other commentators and then ban them. Usually the banning is a result of frustrated comments resulting from ongoing policy and treatment over a long period of time – speaking from personal experience I used to provide several comprehensive, carefully considered comments a day on here, and now I barely bother because numerous comments have simply been deleted by you with no warning nor explanation. My time is worth more than that, so now I’m lucky to read half a dozen articles a week on here and I simply can’t be bothered commenting most of the time. And yes, I’m a lot more hostile than I probably need to be, because I’m annoyed, frustrated, feel slighted and incredulous at what I perceive as hypocrisy.

            So Yea, the site is yours, but if you want people keep reading, if you want them to respect your opinion and care about what you have to say, you need to be a bit less dictatorial and respect and appreciate the time and effort commentators take to write comments on here – even if you don’t like the direction they’re taking personally, as long as they are being broadly reasonable, shutting them down or outright deleting what they’ve taken the time to write is a disrespectful slap in the face. Remember, 99% of readers will never take the time to comment, particularly on a site like this – most of those who do only do so because they are very confident in their knowledge and experience, for good reason. I would humbly suggest that slapping the most knowledgeable, confident and vocal of your readers in their faces is possibly not the best way to encourage expert participation.

            But you know, this is your site, and this is just my opinion, and who the &#@* am I, right? I’m just a rude, angry Internet random with delusions of importance, so feel free to continue to ignore me/delete my comments – after all, you have like 400k weekly (or is that daily?) hits, so it’s clearly working for you – WTF do I know?

          • hey mate,

            I hope you are well.

            Look, I don’t want to get into a complex back and forth debating the points you’ve made. You and others have made them many times on Delimiter. This is time-worn territory here. I’ll leave your comment here for posterity and people can make of it what they wish.

            However, what I will say is this: I think it is very clear that I have been one of the most active journalists in Australia in terms of consistently critiquing the Coalition’s broadband policy and statements made by senior Coalition figures. Where I have made mistakes, I’ve apologised and tried to correct them. I think most people accept this and are moving on. I know I’ll never match up to everyone’s expectations, but that’s OK.

            Your comment posted today does not meet the requirements of the Delimiter comments policy. Specifically, it’s an attack on me personally, not on the argument, and it’s completely off-topic for this article. There’s no “answer” that can be made to your post. You just want to point the finger and accuse me of crimes you believe I have committed.

            Because of this, and because of the fact that this is not the first time you’ve done this, I’m placing you on a ‘pre-moderate’ list for the remainder of 2014. If I believe your comments are polite, useful and productive to the discussion, I’ll let them through.

            But if they, as this one is, represent off-topic personality attacks on anyone, especially me personally, then I will not publish them.

            If you don’t like our comments policy or my personal actions, I encourage you to read and comment on other sites. There are plenty of them out there. As our comments policy openly states: “Delimiter is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship run by one person (myself)”.

            I hope this makes sense.

            Kind regards,


        • He never deleted my comments that were backed by logic showing that the liberal policy of 25 minimum, with a 2019 upgrade to 50 was basically impossible.

          If you were just shouting “that is impossible” I don’t see what they were adding to the conversation. (even when I basically agreed at the time).

          (My evidence was that there exists no vdsl technology that can upgrade any link at 25 megabits to 50 megabits, all of the evidence I posted at the time indicated that a 25megabit vdsl link would only get about 40-45 megabits after various upgrades were applied).

          • “He never deleted my comments that were backed by logic showing that the liberal policy of 25 minimum, with a 2019 upgrade to 50 was basically impossible.”

            This is the thing.

            We are all quite well aware that both parties responsible for the current shambles have highly politicised the NBN debate, and indeed the current build. Labor started it (to a degree) and then the Coalition went to town with half-truth and easily proven fallacy.

            Saying “I told you so..” isn’t factual reason. It’s personal observation. And a pointless one at that.

            This is what the political parties want; people running around self-flagellating over who is more right about who is more wrong, rather than actually questioning what they are doing.

            The Strategic review is a little more important than a document that somehow proves people right. It actually asks pointed questions – that Turnbull can’t answer.

            And we need people like Renai to keep asking questions – not be buried in pointless debate over irrelevant feel-pions. :)

  9. The other aspect I note hasn’t scored much of a mention may well be a very important one. The CBN achieves it’s savings by cutting labour costs, replacing with relatively high cost, both initially and then operationally for all those active cabinets and nodes and the warehouses of spares.
    The labour costs attract income tax, GST on spending, consumption of goods and services – a boost to the slowing economy.
    Expensive active equipment costs go straight overseas.

    Smart economic managers these Libs

  10. Renai,

    there is some real information about HFC available on the NBN Alliance Wiki.

    In particular, it is worth noting that in October two European operators (ONO in Spain, Com Hem in Sweden, network available to over 1 million households) have launched 500/50 Services on their HFC networks.

    No one doubts the long term future is FTTH. But a lot of money can be saved by upgrading the existing HFC networks in the short to medium term, that can be redirected into building new capabilities for the rest of Australia.

    By using the existing HFC asset everyone wins:
    – Those in HFC areas get world leading broadband speeds much much faster than otherwise possible.
    – Those outside HFC areas get 100% focus of construction activities.
    – Australia wins by getting customers and revenue onto the NBN, which reduces the need for capital to build the new network, making it more likely to be completed.

    • It’s not HFC that is the problem Phillp. HFC is a viable, stable and useful short-medium term broadband technology. HFC in Australia, as it stands now, is not. There’s a number of reasons for that:

      1- Node density. Telstra have some 500 000 active subscribers to HFC. Their average node density is 200 active premises per node. That’s 1800 nodes (it’d be many many more than that, around 5000 to cover the whole footprint, but it works for this illustration). Those nodes can each feed 440Mbps (down), combined, to the 200 premises. That’s a hardware contention ratio (assuming they’re averaging 60Mbps (about half on 30Mbps and half on 100Mbps) of 1:27. Or, put another way, if all users downloaded at once, you’d only manage 2.2Mbps. Now, real-world, that won’t happen often, if at all. But Optus has seen problems with this, because their nodes are much higher densities- >500 in some cases. Compare that to NBNCo’s fibre- up to 32 users share 2500Mbps down. That’s 78Mbps at full utilisation (or 125Mbps in the 1:20 configuration of NBNCo’s actual setup including spare fibres)

      Now NBNCo’s own review has said that any upgrade of HFC infrastructure would be to a CIR (Committed information rate- in other words guaranteed throughput) of 4.5Mbps. About double what Telstra’s is now. That would require doubling the number of nodes. And that is still about 15 times higher than fibre’s contention. (we’re talking for 100Mbps services here).

      The problem here is- Europe’s HFC is robust, well planned and well-built. Node densities are much lower, down around 50-75 active premises. Australia’s is none of these things. The last upgrade to HFC saw Telstra put DOCSIS 3.0 (or EuroDOCSIS 3.0 actually) to allow users to download at 100Mbps (440Mbps per node). It cost $100 million. And all they did then was swap out headend equipment. Node splitting is 5-10 times as expensive because it requires civil works. You have to lay more fibre, re-route current Coax etc. It will not be cheap. And speaking of price…

      2- No cost has been given for upgrading HFC to a workable state. Per premises costs are redacted in the review. The only possible reason for this is the cost is considerably higher than Turnbull/NBNCo. would like the public to know (perhaps a significant portion of the $2500/premises for FTTH). This is unacceptable. We know how much it will cost to build an FTTH NBN, give or take a billion or 2. We have no concept of how much it will cost to provide HFC for the 2 million premises that don’t have it in the current footprints. And no guarantee of service. And high contention ratios.

      3- MDUs- These will be a problem for any technology, granted. Fibre in particular. But the fact is, it’s no easier for HFC. If they decided on a HFC FTTB like architecture to save considerable money running HFC coax to each premises (like fibre), it will require a CMTS in each Apartment building above, say, 50 apartments. 2/3 of Australia’s MDUs have less than 10 premises. That means only approx. 1/3 of MDUs can have a CMTS, severely reducing savings on cost. All other will have to have HFC run to each individual apartment. Such as in mine- I have HFC out front and 12 apartments in my complex. 3 have Foxtel….via Satellite…with an HFC cable out front….This is primarily thanks to Strata law (another bane of fibre). HFC would have to contend with this. Otherwise, it would be FTTN (to save dealing with strata). Except NBNCo. have just stated they need to install a splitter in each apartment. So that removes most of the savings of a second truck roll not being required beyond the DSLAM in the basement.

      TL;DR– HFC is a great broadband technology and, well maintained and planned, could continue to be so for another 2 decades. HFC in Australia is neither of those and will require a very significant cost and time to get it there and keep it there. There will be little saving over FTTH and I’d wager none whatsoever over FTTN. In fact it’s likely to cost significantly more than FTTN due to requiring more fibre and Coax to be laid than FTTN- though at least HFC has higher throughput speeds thanks to the Coax.

  11. I’m now just waiting for the Coalition Government to throw it’s collective hands up in the air, and declare that it’s all just too hard and too expensive to implement any sort of National broadband scheme.
    Followed quickly by the breaking up of NBNCo, and selling off all of its assets to private companies all in the name of achieving a surplus by the end of their term in Government.

    • I’m not sure that would be a bad option, as long as they also committed to legislating the structural separation of Telstra at the same time.

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