Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) NBN: What you need to know

A hybrid fibre/coaxial technology that has great potential.

Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) has copped a bit of a bad reputation in recent years because of reliability concerns that, at least in part, are attributable to inherited troubles of parts of the underlying cable network on which it’s based.

Those reliability concerns are, at least according to TPG reports, swamping those of the outages of the least-popular fixed-line NBN technology, Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN). When it’s operating as intended, HFC connections to the NBN access network are capable of delivering impressive performance, even during the busy evening period.

What is HFC?

Like all of the fixed-line technologies that make up NBN’s “Multi Technology Mix”, HFC is based on existing networking technology that’s used around the world. While NBN capitalises Hybrid Fibre Coaxial, HFC uses the existing Optus and Telstra hybrid fibre-coaxial network, which was traditionally used to provide cable broadband internet services (Optus and Telstra) and pay TV (Telstra).

NBN reportedly spent $800 million to purchase and repurpose Optus’ existing cable network. That cable network was deemed, in part, to not be fit for purpose, which meant NBN had to invest a further $375 million to upgrade it. Certain areas that were originally planned to be part of the HFC footprint were shifted to other fixed-line technology types like Fibre-to-the-Curb (FTTC).

Slow Internet - WiFi Modem

Background aside, NBN’s fibre network is connected to a fibre connection point – also called a “node”, but HFC is different to FTTN, even if the hybrid connection principle is similar – and this connection point is then linked to homes via coaxial cable. A pure fibre connection – like those offered on Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) connection – is still the gold standard, but coaxial cable connections to the nearest fibre node are still capable of great speeds, as long as they’re not oversu

Can I get HFC NBN?

If you want to know what technology is available at your home, punch your address into the search form below. At the top of the results, hover your mouse over the section that says “Your area has NBN” to find out what technology is available.

Fastest evening speeds on NBN

Whether you’re eligible for HFC or not, you will be comparing the same NBN plans.  Below is a list of the fastest NBN plans available (sorted by evening speed).

How fast is HFC?

HFC is capable of offering residential speeds of up to 100Mbps download and 40Mbps upload, depending on a number of factors including the plan you pay for, your provider, the quality of the existing hybrid fibre-coaxial network in your area, and your own networking equipment.

By way of comparison, cable internet speeds were capable of reaching above 100Mbps but initially had download speeds of around 2Mbps. Telstra cable, for instance, had an upload bandwidth boost that took upload speeds to around 5Mbps.

All residential speed tiers are offered on HFC, which means NBN 12 Basic (12/1Mbps), NBN 25 Standard (25/5Mbps), NBN 50 Standard Plus (50/20Mbps), and NBN 100 Premium (100/40Mbps or 100/20Mbps).

How to set up HFC

Those homes shifting from cable internet to NBN HFC will be right at home with the shift. In fact, life will be even easier because you’ll already have the necessary coaxial wall outlet required to get you online. The same is true if you currently have or if your premises ever had cable internet and/or pay TV (even before you lived there).

If your premises doesn’t already have the necessary coaxial lead-in cable, an NBN technician will install it on the day alongside an NBN utility box will be installed outside your home. Inside the home, is where the NBN connection box lives, which is a fancy phrase for “modem”. This equipment comes at no extra cost, but you’ll have to contact your preferred provider to sort out appointment times.

For homes without Foxtel, the coaxial cable screws into the coaxial wall outlet then screws into the back of the NBN connection box/modem. For homes with Foxtel, the coaxial cable screws into the coaxial wall outlet, then it screws into a coaxial port on one side of a splitter, which has two similar coaxial ports on the other side that each use a separate coaxial cable: one for Foxtel, the other for your NBN connection box/modem.

Why is my internet so slow - image of Ethernet cable

Ensure the white coaxial cables are screwed-in securely to the coaxial wall outlet, modem and, where relevant, splitter (on both sides of the splitter). Power is then connected to the NBN connection box/modem. Switch it on and wait up to 10 minutes for the new connection to activate (keep an eye out for four solid green lights on the modem).

Next, you’ll want to plug an Ethernet cable from the UNI-D1 port on the NBN connection box/modem, then into an Ethernet port on your wireless router. Your provider may include a wireless router with your internet plan, or you can buy or use a compatible one. If you hit any problems, speak to your provider.

If everything works properly, we highly recommend running an internet speed test, ideally when no connected devices are downloading or uploading. Take note of the speed results and compare them to what’s advertised by your provider to ensure they’re comparable. If they’re not up to snuff, speak to your provider.

HFC upgrade paths

While DOCSIS 3.1 is technically capable of speeds of up to 10Gbps, it’s unlikely that these speeds will be offered for residential connections in the near future. That said, NBN conducted an in-field trial in 2019 that resulted in 1Gbps speeds, which is a more likely upgrade speed. The most promising part of these trials is that no upgraded equipment was required in the home, meaning current NBN HFC equipment is up to the task of achieving these faster speeds (should NBN choose to roll out speeds beyond NBN100 Premium).

Other upgrade paths that NBN has looked into include G.Fast and XG-FAST for FTTN, FTTC and Fibre-to-the-Building/Basement (FTTB) technologies, as well as NGPON2 and XGS PON for FTTP.

If, however, you’d prefer to upgrade HFC to FTTP, you can apply to check your eligibility as part of NBN’s Technology Choice Program, though this incurs a non-refundable $330 application fee (per premises). Unlike other fixed-line technology types like FTTC and FTTB, both of which bring fibre closer to the home, an HFC upgrade to FTTP is likely to be more expensive because it will factor in the cost of running cable from the nearest neighbourhood fibre node to your home. Costs to upgrade tend to be in the thousands.

Connection technology face-off

How exactly does HFC compare to the other NBN fixed-line connection technologies?

HFC vs FTTP

FTTP is the technology type by which all other NBN fixed-line technologies are measured. This is because FTTP uses an exclusive fibre connection from the home to the NBN access network. HFC, on the other hand, runs fibre to a node in a suburb, then the existing (and, ideally, upgraded) hybrid fibre-coaxial network is used to complete the connection to homes serviced by this fixed-line technology type.

HFC vs FTTC

Conceptually, HFC and FTTC are quite similar in that they’re hybrid connection technologies that are mostly fibre but use existing telecommunications infrastructure to complete the connection to serviced homes. While HFC uses the hybrid fibre-coaxial network and FTTC uses existing copper wiring, the main difference is the distance for the non-fibre portion of the connection. For HFC, a connection to the nearest node may be quite a distance, whereas FTTC runs fibre to the kerbside telecommunications box, meaning it’s as low as a handful of metres of existing cabling that’s used.

While FTTC is our silver-medal pick in terms of NBN technologies, HFC is an incredibly close contender to FTTC in terms of the percentage of maximum plan speed delivered during the internet’s busy period (usually between 7pm to 11pm daily), according to regularly updated ACCC data. This is, of course, operating on the assumption that you have an HFC connection that doesn’t have the kind of reliability issues that certain homes have been putting up with.

HFC vs FTTB

FTTB is another hybrid connection technology, except it runs fibre into the telecommunications room of a multi-dwelling unit, like an apartment block. Existing building telecommunications cabling is then used to connect individual premises. Because that in-building cabling may already be fibre (instead of copper wiring) or can be upgraded to fibre, this means FTTB can technically be a complete fibre connection from home to the NBN access network.

While hybrid fibre-coaxial cabling is a newer technology than copper wiring, there are reported reliability concerns for some HFC connections, which holds the technology back from reaching its full potential. The distance between fibre hub and coaxial-connected home also means you’re at the mercy of the latter wiring.

HFC vs FTTN

FTTN is closest in composition to FTTC, but FTTN, FTTC and HFC share a hybrid approach to how they deliver broadband internet access. Where FTTC and FTTN use a mix of fibre and copper wiring, HFC uses a mix of fibre and cabling from the hybrid fibre-coaxial network (both existing and upgraded). Like FTTN, HFC uses a fibre connection to a neighbourhood node, then completes the connection with existing wiring (the cable network, though, instead of the copper telephone network).

On paper, HFC is the better technology type with better future-proofed upgrade paths than FTTN, but reports of increased HFC outages from providers like TPG paint a less-reliable picture.