NBN Co is exploring the development of new devices that will let it fuse Australia's existing copper infrastructure onto its HFC cable footprint and backhaul, the company has revealed.
The devices would essentially allow NBN Co to use its cable infrastructure to provide existing copper lead-ins with enough bandwidth to achieve vectored VDSL2 speeds. Vectored VDSL2 is a newer generation copper-based broadband technology capable of speeds up to 100Mbps over distances of half-a-kilometre.
At a Nokia event hosted at NBN's offices in Sydney last week, Fairfax Media asked NBN Co chief technology officer Dennis Steiger about the feasibility of such an approach to serving broadband to premises within the cable footprint.
"I think it's a brilliant idea," Mr Steiger said, before explaining that NBN Co's plans to implement it were already in development.
"We've actually been working on that for some time now and we're just in the final phases of patenting it".
"The technology actually works. We've built prototypes that prove that it will work in the field so we're going to see if there's any interest beyond our own application," Mr Steiger said.
A spokesman for NBN Co said, however, that the concept was still in the nascent stages of development and that the company wasn't in a position to launch anything yet.
The development of the devices would dovetail nicely with NBN Co's plan to give its network an upgrade path using VDSL2+ successors G.Fast and XG.FAST which can push copper speeds up to a Gigabit and multi-Gigabits respectively.
Mr Steiger's comments coincided with NBN Co and Nokia's first ever announcement that they would trial next generation, XG.FAST copper broadband technology in Australian conditions.
If NBN Co can succeed in developing a device that brings existing copper lead-ins within range of HFC backhaul then it could make these speeds available to millions of premises without the added cost of installing new HFC lead-ins.
That could also be good news for up to 1.5 million premises which were cut from the HFC component of the national network in the company's latest corporate plan and moved to FTTN.
"One of the things that's really, really different about NBN is that we have access to HFC, and we have access to twisted pair and fibre so we can do things in really unique ways, and I think we're regularly finding paths with some of the technology that we're creating," said Mr Steiger.
NBN Co planned to connect 4 million customers to its HFC cable assets. However, in its 2017 corporate plan NBN recalculated its average cost to connect premises within its HFC footprint from $1800 up to $2300. (According to respected telecommunications daily, CommsDay, it's understood that the cost blowout was due to a miscalculation of premises needing expensive underground HFC cable lead-ins)
If fully developed, the HFC-copper fusion device would be a new class of the NBN Co's so-called "micro-nodes". It revealed its first last March when it demonstrated an Alcatel-Lucent fibre-to-the-distribution-point (FTTdp) device also capable of saving the network builder on expensive civil construction works.
NBN Co showed that FTTdp, which also uses copper lead-ins, could provide high-speed broadband access to premises with existing copper in relatively sparsely populated semi-rural areas with a fibre thoroughfare nearby.
NBN Co's latest estimate is that that up to 500,000 homes could be served using FTTdp.