Critics “mistaken”, says NBN Co: We’re not going to “scrap” Optus HFC


news The NBN company today said those who believed it was going to “scrap” Optus’ HFC cable network were “mistaken”, and that leaked documents published last week showing the network was not fit for use as part of the National Broadband Network were only a “hypothetical exercise”.

Under Labor’s previous near-universal Fibre to the Premises model for the NBN, the HFC cable and copper networks owned by Telstra and Optus would have been shut down. However, the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix plan instituted by Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister in the Abbott administration is seeing them acquired and upgraded by the NBN company. In Optus’ case, the network buy came at a cost of some $800 million.

However, internal documents leaked last week appeared to reveal that the NBN company was considering overbuilding the Optus HFC cable network, in a move which appeared to dramatically validate long-standing criticism that the HFC cable technology could not meet Australia’s future broadband needs.

The documents — dated 3 November — openly stated that Optus’ HFC network was “not fully fit for purpose”, with some Optus equipment “arriving at end of life” — needing to be “replaced”. Some Optus HFC nodes were “oversubscribed” compared with Telstra’s HFC cable network and would “require node splits”, while Optus’ cable modem termination systems didn’t have “sufficient capacity to support NBN services”.

The document explicitly stated that some 470,000 premises in the Optus HFC cable footprint would need to be overbuilt, with a significant impact to the NBN company’s peak funding requirement ranging between $150 million and $600 million. The document also explicitly stated that the NBN company will miss its financial year 2017-2018 HFC ready for service target.

However, in a post on the NBN company’s blog today, NBN public affairs manager Tony Brown wrote that the document was just a hypothetical exercise.

“The speculation about our NBN HFC network stemmed from a leaked internal NBN briefing paper in which our team were performing detailed infrastructure rollout planning to examine our options for making the most efficient and economic use of existing HFC networks,” wrote Brown. “Alternative scenarios are always run as part of that exercise.”

“This is very basic scenario planning – but there is all the difference in the world between a hypothetical exercise in which we ask ourselves what we would do if a network turned out to be unusable and that network actually being unusable.”

“To put it another way, taking the precaution of drawing up a disaster response plan for your home in case of a natural disaster doesn’t mean that there is a bush fire raging in your back garden – it means you will be ready if it happens.”

Brown wrote that last week he had visited the NBN company’s trial deployment of HFC cable extensions on the Optus network in Redcliffe, Queensland.

“Our excellent NBN engineering team report that they have found nothing unexpected on the Optus HFC network in Redcliffe – and the very strong pilot results show the network is perfectly capable of delivering excellent high-speed services,” he wrote.

“NBN switched on its HFC pilot in the suburb a couple of weeks back and has been supplying local trial user’s [via their Retail Service Providers] services of around 100Mbps/40Mbps on the Optus HFC network – that’s the same network which some commentators have mistakenly thought we will have to scrap.”

“As I saw myself in Redcliffe last Thursday, and whilst the speculation buzzed around the media about our HFC network, our engineers and contractors were simply getting on the job of connecting premises to the NBN network.”

“On a sweltering hot summery day the contractors were hard at work hooking up premises to the NBN HFC network – including connecting several Multi-Dwelling Units to the NBN HFC network which had not previously been connected to the Optus HFC network.”

“The great news for end-users is that connecting them to the NBN HFC network will usually be a pretty quick and easy process.”

“Our hard-working contractors say that during the trial they have been connecting a stand-alone premise with a new aerial HFC lead-in in less than one hour – much cheaper and quicker than, for example, supplying an underground FTTP connection to the same premise would be.”

“This fast paced rollout for HFC means we can get the good people of Redcliffe and beyond on board the NBN HFC network much faster and more cost effectively than building a new FTTP network in its place – and that’s what matters most of all.”

Hmmm. Do I entirely believe that this document merely represented a hypothetical situation, put together for contingency planning purposes? Not entirely. I’ll have more to say about this shortly.

Image credit: NBN company


  1. Link to blog post not working. Is link incorrect, or are NBN Co rewriting it again? ;)

  2. Oh dear…

    After years of denigrating overbuilds and switch offs, the MTM supporters here, following this Optus HFC debacle, completely back-flipped and sold out their entire position saying… no it’s fine to overbuild/switch off after all..

    Another back flip now, lads?

  3. Not sure how much I like the comparison of aerial HFC vs underground FTTP. Very different comparison and OPEX costs…

    Why can’t there be less bias :(

    • Unfortunately there will always be bias. They will only use facts that will help them achieve their ends, not ours. This comparison reminds me of the one where they can roll out FTTN quicker than FTTP because they don’t have to dig up your front yard. A stupid comparison that completely ignores the more important factors such as maintenance costs, capacity, usage life etc. That’s the only selling point they have to convince the “good people” that their MTM is better. They keep blabbing on about how it takes less time to setup because that is the only aspect where it beats FTTP.

      • @beema_62 +1

        Queensland’s narrow-gauge railways cost more than standard gauge in maintenance even though they only needed around 25% of the construction cost. We have been paying for it ever since. There is no need to design, build and maintain a Tilt Train with standard gauge and none of the whine coming from underneath that you get on the narrower gauges. Then there’s the carrying capacity that has been limited due to the narrow gauge.

        But we’re only too happy to pour hundreds of billions into road travel and road freight. Is there a difference? Yes, ideology. Rail is seen as socialist, whereas road transport is more about freedom of the individual. It comes down to the ideology of political parties, same as with the NBN. The Libs didn’t want a ubiquitous complete solution, so they penny pinched. Small(er) government. They ideally wanted companies to build networks, but they saw that that wasn’t possible, so they’re being pragmatic, but penny pinching.

      • beema_62,

        ” They keep blabbing on about how it takes less time to setup because that is the only aspect where it beats FTTP.”

        Well it depends how hard you want to look for other aspects ‘where it beats FTTP’, most FTTP fans don’t look very hard because of what they might find.

        From the CP 2016 comparing Cost Per Premise, Brownfields FTTP $3,700 FTTN $1,600.

        • Speaking of not looking too hard, where in the rubbery analyses that have been done, have they quoted the necessary extra upgrade cost from FTTN to FTTP? There isn’t any avoiding it, even though Turnbull, Morrow and co desperately try to any mention of it. Just as there is no avoiding the substantial extra remediation and maintenance costs that come with FTTN.

          You need to compare apples to apples, FTTP to FTTP. Going via FTTN first, is not going to be cheaper nor a better investment of taxpayer dollars.

        • Yes FTTP cost 67% less than FTTN to run cost 25% less than HFC to run.

          Considering version has said one of the reason of switching from FTTN to FTTP is maintence.

  4. I’d like to hear Morrow claim it was only an exercise. He tends to balk outright lying. Tony Brown has always been far from honest.

  5. ““Our excellent NBN engineering team report that they have found nothing unexpected on the Optus HFC network in Redcliffe – and the very strong pilot results show the network is perfectly capable of delivering excellent high-speed services,” he wrote.”

    Of course it is completely valid to extrapolate the small segment of the HFC network in Redcliffe to the rest of the network across Australia. :-/

    • The same excellent engineering team that thought that the HFC was in a good enough shape to use. That is excellent.

    • They “found nothing expected” on the HFC network, because they fully expected it to be at end of life.

      Truth in advertising.

      • Actually it says “found nothing UNexpected” – which means they knew it was shite so nothing they found was a surprise. :-P

  6. I guess it’s one of those crazy hypothetical situations where they didn’t just follow the political script, but actually had to tell the truth…

  7. Time will tell when they get to that 25% coverage area I guess.

    I’d be interested how they suddenly managed to alleviate the strata issues with the MDU’s and cable/HFC.

    Are they using the permission for fibre to install not fibre?

  8. Nah, they won’t scrap it. They’ll just spend hundreds of millions rebuilding it, just to deliver a product that was pretty amazing a mere 20 years ago…

      • We can just add 40 more antennas to it, connect 10 routers to it, re-wire the whole thing and upgrade the chipsets inside it and bam faster internets.

  9. What’s the difference between aerial hfc and aerial fibre?
    Compare apples with apples, please.

    • One is HFC (DOCSIS), the other GPON – do some googling to learn the differences.

      PS in-ground or Aerial is largely irrelevant to both from an operational POV, it’s faster to roll-out for both tho.

      • “do some googling to learn the differences”

        That comment should really be addressed to NBN Co as they are the ones comparing aerial HFC to underground fibre.

        The difference isn’t down to the technology, but the manner of connecting the cable.

  10. Yes the REAL plan is to re-mediate the last mile (all of it actually) of the HFC. Next week we will find out that NBN Co have spent $14 million on 1800km on new cable to do the job!!

  11. Nearly two years into the MTM and they have got as far as doing “very basic scenario planning”. Go Team!

        • Yep, lets ignore everything that happened in between! Impressive new levels of childishness from you Alain!!!

        • Turnbull has had all the hard stuff done for him, he still cant get his MTM off the ground. Labor had to bring Telstra to heel, build a brand new GBE, build infrastructure from the ground up, put systems and people in place. Labor, and NBN Co under Labor achieved a massive amount.
          Turnbull is riding on Conroys coat tails, and still cant get a “cheaper, faster” rollout happening. It should have been underway withing 6 months according to Turnbull before the election. It was all fully costed and ready to go!
          Reality is that over 2 years since he got in, the only progress that is being made on the NBN is still thanks to Labor policy. That’s got to be more than a little embarrassing.

  12. Most of the Optus HFC network duplicates Telstra’s anyway, thanks to the (short lived) cable wars of the 90s. I’d agree with you that this scenario doesn’t seem entirely hypothetical, Optus’ network definitely does need upgrading, and I’d assume where Optus and Telstra run in the same area it’s Optus that will get binned. Having two physically separate networks seems unnecessarily complicated — unless there’s literally no other way to get the desired capacity out of the network??

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