The NBN was just pimped up to go 10 times faster over pay-TV cables

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The National Broadband Network has announced it tested new technology that reached 1Gbps download speeds over pay television cables.

Currently the highest commercially available speed tier is 100Mbps for people on the NBN through pay-TV cable, also known as hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC). The NBN is now testing new technology called DOCSIS 3.1 that can boost the performance significantly over the same physical lines.

On Tuesday the NBN revealed that laboratory testing of DOCSIS 3.1 in Melbourne had achieved download speeds of 1000Mbps, or 1Gbps, and upload speeds of 100Mbps.

NBN chief Bill Morrow said that these early results were “very exciting” because it meant in the future pay-TV cables could deliver similar performance as fibre optic cables run all the way into the house, known as fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP).

“DOCSIS 3.1 is going to be able to provide fantastic gigabit potential for end users – just as our fibre-to-the-premises network does today,” he said.

The breakthrough is also notable in that it costs more than $4,400 per existing premises to connect to FTTP, compared to about $2,250 for HFC connections. The high cost of FTTP is what prompted the Coalition to dump it as the default NBN technology – while sacrificing performance — when it came to power in 2013.

Morrow said that because pay-TV cables were already physically present, it’s less disruptive to deploy.

“The best news is that we will be able to bring gigabit broadband to these premises far more quickly, cost effectively and with less disruption to end users than alternate technologies in these busy urban areas.”

HFC, which has been around since 1990s to deliver broadband as well as subscription television, is more susceptible than other cabling to neighbourhood congestion. Current non-NBN broadband users on HFC — through Telstra or Optus — can experience speeds as low as 1Mbps, all the way up to 200Mbps.

DOCSIS 3.1, which has not yet been commercially deployed outside the United States, will undergo further NBN lab testing in August with field trials due in December. A commercial launch is anticipated sometime next year.

NBN’s HFC covers Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Gold Coast neighbourhoods that were formerly serviced by Telstra for Foxtel connections. The NBN also bought the rights to Optus’ pay-TV infrastructure, but it was later found to be too much in disrepair to be brought up to modern standards.

As of end of March, the NBN was delivering just 64,000 connections over HFC, but after metropolitan rollouts accelerate it aims to get to 3 million when its mission is complete by the end of 2020.

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