In order for all of the applied connection types to meet the demands of the National Broadband Network, steps must be taken to ensure each network is ready to deliver the required performance. In this NBN update, we take a look at some of the programs underway to maximise network performance and make the most of both pre-existing and new infrastructure involved in the multi-technology mix.

Maximising the capacity of HFC

The hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) networks nbn has purchased from Telstra and Optus are vital components to the MTM rollout, with approximately 34 per cent of premises around Australia to receive HFC connections to the network.

In order to optimise HFC network performance, nbn is currently undertaking technology trials which set it up to become one of the first telecommunications companies in the world to adopt the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.1 standard. Applying this technology standard has the potential to offer speeds rivaling those of a full fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) connection to premises connected to the network via HFC.

DOCSIS 3.1 increases the capacity of the cable by transmitting data more efficiently and using more of the available spectrum, increasing the possible download and upload speeds as a result. Upgrading the network to meet this standard will involve using the latest DOCSIS 3.1 compliant technology and re-architecting the network to optimise the ratio of premises to a node.

The benefits associated with DOCSIS 3.1 are not limited to higher upload and download speeds. The technology also offers powerful network maintenance tools, allowing potential faults to be detected before service is interrupted and enabling proactive network maintenance to realise maintenance cost savings.

nbn intends to have DOCSIS 3.1 services commercially available in 2017. The company’s commercial HFC product is scheduled for launch in the second quarter of 2016, and a customer experience pilot is currently underway on the Optus HFC network in Redcliffe, Queensland. The trial has seen HFC NBN connections extended to 4,500 premises and end users from a variety of retail service providers have had their connections activated. nbn states that end users have been receiving speeds of up to 100Mbps/40Mbps during the trial.

Committing to HFC excellence

nbn has also been working to better leverage Australia’s industry expertise for effective HFC network upgrades and seamless ownership transitions. Towards this end, the company has been in discussions with the former owners of the networks, Telstra and Optus, regarding a shared management approach for their respective networks.

As a result, nbn has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Telstra to negotiate a contract for the design, procurement and construction management for the 3.6 million premises in the HFC NBN footprint that will be serviced by key components of the current Telstra HFC network. This contract is expected to be finalised in early 2016. Discussions with Optus are ongoing towards securing a similar arrangement for the Optus HFC network.

If negotiations go as expected, Telstra will become a partner in managing the design and build of a large portion of the HFC network.

The proposed HFC Engineering, Procurement and Construction Management (EPCM) arrangement also provides for Telstra to undertake self-performed work (e.g. in exchanges). Work under the proposed EPCM will also continue past RFS (e.g. management of nbn MIMA contractors, some Telstra self-performed work and defects liability work). All product development, related activities with retail providers, and work required once end users are able to order a connection, will continue to be managed by nbn.

By handing over the build management within the HFC network footprints to their legacy owners, Telstra and Optus, nbn seeks to simplify the transition during the co-existence period and mitigate the potential risks associated with these complicated yet critical migrations. The legacy owners will adhere to the network construction principles outlined by nbn, and nbn will retain strong oversight of the project.

Forging forward with Australia’s largest infrastructure project

The HFC network is not the only component of the multi-technology mix involved in a revolutionary agreement to maximise rollout efficiency and technology performance.

nbn has also signed Operate and Maintain Master Agreements (OMMA) with Service Stream Limited, Telstra and BSA Limited for services on the fixed line networks including fibre-to-the-premises, fibre-to-the-node, fibre-to-the-building and HFC connections.

These contracts are based on the same principles of flexibility, competition and incentives for high performance as the Multi-Technology Integrated Master Agreements (MIMA) signed for the networks’ construction and involve activating premises and performing ongoing maintenance. Work covered by the OMMA relates to operations and maintenance work once an area has been declared ‘ready for service’ (RFS) and end users are able to order a connection.

Potential Fttdp product announced

nbn has also been trialling a new broadband technology standard called G.Fast, which increases the speeds achievable over existing copper cables, by employing fibre-to-the-distribution-point (Fttdp) connections. Fttdp is similar to fibre-to-the-node, except the fibre optic component of the network terminates at the last possible junction point, known as the distribution point, located within 250m of the premise.

This technology will potentially be used in the MTM rollout to upgrade some of the network’s fibre-to-the-node (FttN) and fibre-to-the-basement/building (FttB) connections in the future, in order to achieve superior performance.

The first nbn field trials of G.Fast were conducted in a Melbourne office block and achieved speeds of more than 600Mbps on a 100metre stretch of more than 20 year old copper. Furthermore, trials at the nbn National Test Facility reportedly achieved speeds of nearly 970Mbps over a stretch of 20 metre copper cable.

The company is currently engaging with its retail service providers to organise wider G.Fast field trials.

Reaching for the stars with Sky Muster

By optimising the multi-technology mix, nbn has also found a way to increase the data capacity of the nbn satellite network. This means that end-users in remote areas that will be serviced by satellite broadband via the two NBN dedicated satellites will receive an improved service with a higher data capacity than originally planned.  

This has been made possible by moving 40,000 premises originally marked for satellite service to the fixed line and fixed wireless footprint, resulting in more available capacity on the satellite network, and by increased utilisation of the second purpose-built broadband satellite due to be launched next year.

The Sky Muster service is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2016.

Overall, the way forward for the nbn network is being fine-tuned to deliver an enhanced product to end users by making the most of each component of the multi-technology mix and forging effective partnerships to make use of Australia’s world-class technical expertise. This occurs while the rollout itself accelerates with weekly rollout figures showing around 10,000 new connections per week compared to approximately 4,000 per week in December 2014.

The shape of Australia’s digital future is gradually taking shape – watch this space.

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