NBN Co begins rolling out new HFC tech to help handle high demand

With uptake of Hybrid Fibre Co-axial (HFC) NBN connections by Australians confirmed to have been much greater than NBN Co initially anticipated, the broadband network has experienced numerous connection delays for customers in premises with HFC – and, ultimately, was forced to put a hold on new HFC installations in December 2017.

That pause was lifted in April in a limited capacity, and now NBN Co has announced that it has fast-tracked the rollout of a new technological standard that hopes to alleviate HFC capacity issues.

The new DOCSIS 3.1 technology that's powering the upgrade was originally slated for a late 2018 deployment, but has been pushed forward by several months and has already been activated in thousands of Sydney and Melbourne premises.

What is DOCSIS 3.1?

DOCSIS stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, and although the latest version of this international specification (3.1) was first developed in 2013, it’s only seen implementation by global telecomm companies in the last two years. 

In relation to the current issues with HFC connections on the NBN, the rollout of 3.1 doubles the available capacity by “significantly improving the spectral efficiency of the HFC network and allowing NBN Co to use new higher range spectrum.”

When extra capacity was needed in areas of high-density HFC adoption, NBN Co would previously have had to resort to node-splitting, a process which involved installing extra physical nodes where the demand required them. Thousands of these nodes are already in place, but the installation process makes it a time consuming and labour intensive solution.

Pleasant side effects

While node splitting did achieve the desired extra capacity, it was considerably less efficient a strategy than the DOCSIS 3.1 implementation, and was ultimately considered a band-aid solution.

NBN Co claims that switching to the new specification will help in “delivering a more stable and resilient network for end users”, and the increased efficiency “will, in turn, free up construction resources elsewhere to complete the network build by 2020”.

Along with the increased capacity and efficiency, DOCSIS 3.1 also allows for a theoretical maximum download speed of 10Gbps and an upload speed of 1Gbps. NBN Co has stated that this “is not our core focus at this present time”, although it could well be utilised at some stage in the next two years of the NBN’s installation.

While NBN Co hasn’t laid out a specific roadmap for which addresses it has activated DOCSIS 3.1 for, or which premises it intends to roll the specification out to first, considering the focus on capacity concerns, it’s likely that the areas most affected will be the first to see the benefits.

Harry Domanski
Harry is an Australian Journalist for TechRadar with an ear to the ground for future tech, and the other in front of a vintage amplifier. He likes stories told in charming ways, and content consumed through massive screens. He also likes to get his hands dirty with the ethics of the tech.