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