Opticomm: No technical barrier to open access cable

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Opticomm: No technical barrier to open access cable

Launches Aussie-first wholesale cable network.

Wholesale fibre provider Opticomm has hit back at claims existing hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) cable networks cannot be offered on an open access, wholesale basis to other internet service providers.

Managing director Phil Smith told iTnews provisions for wholesaling HFC services to other providers already existed in the most current DOCSIS standard and could easily be implemented within existing networks.

Opticomm last week launched one of Australia's first wholesale cable networks in the Western Australian development of Brighton, allowing retail internet service providers to provide services at similar speeds to the National Broadband Network under a similar pricing construct.

The ten-year-old cable network, previously operated by vertically integrated provider E-Wire, passes 2300 homes that also have access to copper-only connections.

An additional 1200 homes are connected with newer Ethernet Passive Optical Networking fibre-to-the-premises technology.

Services by E-Wire, which is owned by Broadcast Engineering Services, had been prone over the years to complaints over poor customer service and lack of competitive pricing.

Since acquiring the rights to operate the development last November, Opticomm has upgraded the cable portion of the network to the DOCSIS 3.0 cable standard - providing faster downstream speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

It also implemented channel bonding technology, allowing for faster upstream speeds, unlike most current cable networks in Australia.

The launch of the faster standard also provided the first opportunity for retail providers to offer services over cable in the market.

"There's no black magic we needed to make it work," Smith said of opening the network to wholesale access.

"We just followed basic principles of open access. It's the way you do your VLAN, you just manage it like we do with normal open access," he said.

Smith said the upgraded network and change of operator was attracting residents to take cable service again rather than DSL, with many opting for the fastest, 100/40 Mbps product.

The network had been rolled out at a "tens of dollars" cost per cable subscriber, as opposed to the approximately $3000 a house Smith estimated would be required to retrofit premises for a fibre-to-the-home build.


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Cable operators reluctant

Opticomm's success in the area contradicts assumptions made by major cable operators Telstra and Optus, as well as iiNet-owned TransACT, which have all claimed their cable networks would be technically unfeasible or incredibly expensive to open to third parties.

Though all three networks have been upgraded to DOCSIS 3.0 over the past several years, allowing faster downstream speeds, all remain vertically integrated and offer highly disproportionate upload speeds.

Optus claimed in submissions to the competition watchdog last month that providing wholesale access would require a "major upgrade" to its cable network and it had no incentive to provide the service.

Its cable network currently passes 2.4 million premises in capital cities but customer numbers have steadily declined over the past 18 months, to reach 496,000 customers as at December last year.

Though TransACT chief executive Ivan Slavich has previously defended the technology roadmap for cable, he has indicated no plans to provide wholesale access to the regional Victorian network, which risks being overbuilt under the NBN.

Telstra and Optus have signed deals with NBN Co which would see them progressively decommission cable broadband services as fibre-to-the-premises is activated in those areas.

NBN fodder?

Shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull jumped on Opticomm's move as backing his continued calls for a revised broadband network which would retain large portions of the HFC network.

"The myth of 'no open access HFC' is particularly egregious, the company says, because the features which have been used to implement the Open Access functionality are part of the DOCSIS standard," he said.

Smith said he remained passionate about fibre-to-the-premises technology but said upgraded, wholesale HFC networks could be used a less costly stop-gap to a full fibre rollout.

"I believe you could actually get a lot more customers connected quickly if you upgraded the HFC and then spent longer putting in the final fibre network that would eventually replace the HFC in time and that might be 10 years or whatever down the track," he said.

"If HFC is there to be able to give good, fast broadband to people today in an open access model, why not get customers connected quickly then to wait for what is a slower rollout of fibre?"

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