Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial (HFC) and the NBN

HFC connection connected to home

The NBN is a mix of different infrastructures, technologies, and connections, which all come together to create the National Broadband Network. Hybrid fibre-coaxial, or HFC, is one part of this network, using preexisting pay TV cables to deliver broadband to around 27% of homes and businesses within the NBN. If you have an HFC connection, or want to learn more about how HFC compares to other NBN technologies such as FTTN or FTTP, continue reading below.

What is HFC?

Hybrid fibre-coaxial, or HFC, is a type of NBN connection, which utilizes existing “pay TV” cables (rather than copper telephone wires used in many other NBN connections) to make the final part of the NBN connection to your home. HFC is a critical component of the NBN, and currently covers around 27% of Australian NBN consumers.

It’s important to note that hybrid fibre-coaxial is not the same as cable broadband, despite the fact that both these types of broadband use the same cable infrastructure.

How does HFC work?

The NBN is a multi-technology mix (or MTM), utilizing different types of connections to bring high-speed broadband to Australians. Hybrid fibre-coaxial is one type of connection.

HFC uses the network of pay TV cables, built in the 1990’s by Telstra and Optus for services such as Foxtel, to now deliver broadband to Australians. Similar to other NBN connections, such as FTTN and FTTB, fibre-optic cables are used to deliver broadband to a central node. Unlike FTTB or FTTN which use copper telephone wires to complete the NBN connection from the node to your home, HFC uses the pay TV cables to complete the connection from the node.

In order for your home to connect to the NBN through a hybrid fibre-coaxial connection, you will need the existing cable connection in your home. It should be noted that even if you have an existing cable connection, it does not mean your NBN will be HFC, that is up to the NBN rollout and the type of NBN available in your area.

With an HFC connection, you will need the same equipment as other types of NBN, namely the NBN utility box outside of the premises and an NBN connection box inside your home, both supplied by the NBNCo, as well as a router or wifi modem usually supplied by your ISP. With HFC you can still get a home phone line, called VoIP, like you wouldwith any other NBN connection. In addition, if you already use the coaxial connection for a pay TV service or non-NBN cable broadband, the NBNCO can provide a cable splitter.

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How fast is HFC? Hybrid fibre-coaxial download speeds

HFC download speeds are comparable to other types of NBN connection, such as FTTN and FTTP, though significantly faster than ADSL. All HFC connections should be able to reach NBN100 speeds, meaning a maximum speed of 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload and, according to the ACCC Broadband Speed Test, HFC delivered about 86% of the maximum plan speed during the busiest hours.

NBN technology speeds
NBN connection type Percentage of maximum speed for all services
Fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) 101%
Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN) 90%
Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC) 99%
Hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) 100%

It should be noted that if you’re looking for one of the new, high-speed NBN plans, NBN250 (Superfast) and NBN1000 (Ultrafast), not all HFC connections can reach those speeds. Currently, around 70% of all HFC connections can reach 250Mbps, but NBNCO has plans to extend this speed to all HFC connections by June 2021. For those who want NBN Ultrafast, HFC is configured to reach 750Mbps with potential bursts of 990Mbps, and is only available to 7% of current HFC connections.

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HFC is a type of NBN connection, like Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN), Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP), Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC), and Fibre-to-the-Basement (FTTB) and all these technologies work together to deliver the NBN to more than 90% of homes and businesses.

The biggest difference between HFC and all other types of fixed wire NBN connections, outside of the actual infrastructure used to complete the connection, is speed. While more and more connection types are reaching higher percentages of total maximum download speed (90% or more), FTTN still falls short of reaching its full potential when compared to HFC.

In addition, FTTN connections still aren’t usually able to support NBN250 or faster while a small number of HFC connections can support these Superfast and Ultrafast download speeds. However, NBN consumers who have a FTTN connection may be able to get an upgrade to FTTP which is able to support these 250+Mbps download speeds.

Can I choose which NBN connection I want?

Whether you want an HFC connection, or you have one and want a different type of NBN, the short answer is no, you cannot choose the type of NBN connection you get to your home. It all depends on the type of infrastructure available in your home and on your street, with only one type of connection available per premise.

The caveat to this is, however, the Australian government and NBNCO is planning to upgrade and replace the older FTTN connections with faster FTTP, with more than 2 million premises switched by the end of 2023.

If your neighborhood is not part of the FTTP expansion, it is also possible to request, and pay for, an upgrade yourself through the NBN Technology Choice tool with some neighborhoods or streets raising money together to get an upgrade. It is important to note that switching to FTTP is not cheap. Applications alone can cost upwards of $330 per premise, and the actual upgrade can get as high as $10,000 or more to upgrade an entire apartment building.

If you're not yet eligible for high-speed NBN or HFC, you can also choose to connect your home to the 5G network using home wireless broadband without the need for steep installation costs or for a technician to come out.

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