Gigabit Broadband Speeds

Metropolitan homes and businesses connecting to the National Broadband Network are one step closer to gigabit speeds, with a new technology launched today expected to improve the connections for millions of premises.

Three million Australians will be connected to the NBN using hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) cable, typically in capital cities where the home already has a pay-TV service, by the time the roll-out finishes in 2020. Currently, households can access a maximum 100Mbps plan through a retail service provider.

However, a new cable technology called DOCSIS 3.1 will double the current capacity of the network and potentially allow the launch of 1Gbps plans when there is enough demand – 10 times the speed of the highest available option.

Most of the HFC footprint is expected to be given the upgrade in the next two years, with trials of the technology last year in Melbourne reaching 1Gbps in downstream speed and 100Mbps upload speeds.

Currently, three-quarters of new end-user premises are picking 50Mbps or 100Mbps plans, with half of the 4.1 million activated premises on 50Mbps or 100Mbps. There was a surge in the take-up of 50Mbps plans after the NBN Co drastically discounted the price to match the cost of the cheaper, and previously more popular, 25Mbps option.

NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow announced a six to ninemonth delay for customers yet to connect to the HFC network in December, as a result of poor customer experiences on the network and drop out complaints from a ‘‘ minority’ ’ of customers. This pause finished in late June, with about 900,000 homes and businesses to be connected by April 2019.

As the upgrades are rolled out, HFC-connected premises are expected to see the benefits of additional capacity immediately even before higher speed plans become available.

NBN Co chief technology officer Ray Owen said in a statement higher speeds would be available under the new technology, but it was ‘‘ not our core focus at this present time’’ .

Mr Morrow previously said the network would offer higher speeds when there was enough demand for it, with most current applications not justifying a 1Gbps plan.

The technology is used by UScable company Comcast and is an alternative to installing additional optical nodes, which would take more time and money.

‘‘ From an NBN Co point of view, DOCSIS 3.1 will help us increase capacity on the HFC network far more efficiently than conducting new optical node splits, which will, in turn, free up construction resources elsewhere to complete the network build by 2020,’’ Mr Owen said. ‘‘ In addition, we also look forward to the benefits that DOCSIS 3.1 will help bring on the operational side of the network in delivering a more stable and resilient network for end-users .’’