NBN’s Mixed Technology Future

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Mixed Technology NBN has copper elements that may sound inappropriate for those who have pure fibre optic based connections. After all, this format (Fibre to the Node, HFC, et al), a combination of fibre and copper, is widely debated among NBN subscribers. Up to this point, it is deemed unable to match the pure fibre performance of Fibre to the Premises connections.

However, new developments such as the copper acceleration technology of XG.Fast and G.Fast could lead to the future of Mixed Technology NBN. October 2016 and same month last year saw a slew of trials and tests for this new technology were favourable. The speed and performance registered were considered at par with wired NBN connections. It is also in line accordingly with a 2017 launch.

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Other similar approaches such as optimising copper and HFC lines is also being done to maximise existing connections with these elements, in order to achieve pure fibre performance levels.

And with incoming newer tech to use this might change the outlook and standing of the format. It will soon be possible to have it coexist equally with other NBN formats without “tech discrimination” and be considered an equal performing format.

To Consider the Copper

The opposition Labor party was opting for a pure fibre network during the pre-election period. This would demand even bigger budgets to carry out, and with many complications. But their version and vision of a pure fibre fixed line NBN network did not materialise. The Coalition won majority of the Parliament seats and their version of a multi technology mix NBN prevailed. Labor’s vision was ideal, yet (criticised as) too expensive and also a difficult proposition.

Mixed technology NBN uses older copper technology and other copper based lines such as HFC or Hybrid Fibre Coaxial. Mixed technology is considered more flexible, easier to achieve, and less expensive to carry out due to pre-existing copper connections in many premises. But the speed and performance is also reduced, depending on how much of the copper connection is present, and its condition.

With more ease and flexibility for majority of subscribers, the format has allowed less expenses and time constraints in the overall roll out process. It also opens up options for fixed wired connections, with all the different situations and conditions associated with getting the NBN fibre network over to premises in different areas, regions, and locations. However, Copper is also considered less superior to a pure fixed line fibre format up to this point, at least to the public’s overall perception.

G.Fast and XG.Fast are new copper formats tested and introduced in Oct 2015 and Oct 2016 respectively. So far, XG.Fast achieved speeds of 8Gbps using 30m of “twisted pair” copper lines. This made it an almost equal alternative to pure fibre without sacrificing speed and performance. They are considered as the best possible fibre extension solution at this point.
Mixed Technology NBN is easier, cheaper, more convenient, and less of a hassle in production, in the long run. Concurrent with the NBN and Coalition policies and goals, NBN Co. in cooperation with Nokia, ran XG.Fast lab tests and produced these results. Each initial trial is an unofficial dry run for their future implementation. They are the third company globally to use XG.Fast.

These results are projected to improve the state of Mixed Technology NBN, which has so far had also produced mixed reactions and points of view regarding its feasibility. The main concern is speed and performance, which has been answered with favourable test results, as well as physical resiliency, especially when compared to the more superior pure fibre connections.

These new copper formats basically have the same principle. They would be used in the immediate premises of the subscribers, as was first envisioned for connections such as FTTB or Fibre to the Building, and FTTC or Fibre to the Curb (also known as FTTdp or Fibre to the Distribution Point) connections. The rest outside would still be comprised of the fibre connections and NBN equipment.

Due to its discussion in the 2017 Corporate Plan, FTTC / FTTdp is slated to be active to service at least 700,000 homes and businesses. Along with HFC connections, which are projected to be 2.5 and 3.2 million by 2020, this makes up the planned future for Mixed Technology NBN. This also includes other sub formats such as FTTN and FTTB.

As to the same physical properties of fibre, copper remains less superior. There is no mention yet of how these can be matched for resiliency and performance. This is one of the other elements that have not been addressed with XG.Fast. But given the limited presence and positioning of these copper connections to the inside or immediate areas of the premises, any effects from outdoor elements can be limited to a point as well.

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