Why Gigabit Services Over the NBN Won’t Translate into Gigabit Internet for Consumers

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New updates to the NBN infrastructure mean that cable Internet might be delivering faster speeds to Australian users than fibre, but there’s more to the story than that.

The government-run NBN co organisation has committed to a SOCSIS3.1 upgrade, which will allow HFC pay TV network cables to deliver broadband speeds in excess of a gigabit per second, and as high as 10 gigabits per second. This technology has been highlighted as an alternative that means the original NBN goal of running fibre-to-the-premises would be slated as a more expensive and inefficient option. However, it’s not all good news.

Only a third of Australian premises will be able to receive broadband via the existing pay TV cables, and for the majority of those Australians, the technology is still quite a while away, with only four suburbs across Queensland and New South Wales to participate in a trial this year.

Further, for cable to be able to deliver these kinds of speeds, the cable networks themselves need a major overhaul, and the technology is prone to sharp slowdowns. While it might be able to offer a gigabit per second in optimal circumstances, in practice, if too many people on the same connected street are connecting to the Internet at the same time, speeds dive sharply. Optus, which already offers cable solutions, has received plenty of complaints from customers because of these speed drops during peak periods.

In reality, the expected download speeds that NBN customers receive will be far lower. The government’s strategic review into the NBN reported the expectation that average download speeds would be as low as “50 Mbps or greater” by 2019.

This speed is certainly faster than what most individuals within Australia have access to, with ADSL services typically running at below 10 Mbps. But for the kind of telecommuting, working-from-home, and small business applications that the NBN was designed to champion, the speeds being touted through this technology will not match the benefits that the initial fibre rollout had promised.

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