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HFC cable delivers Pay TV to many Australians, but it can also deliver high speed Internet services. Here is what you should consider before signing up for an HFC cable plan.

How does HFC Cable broadband work?

HFC (more formally, Hybrid Fibre Coaxial) cable uses the infrastructure laid down by Telstra and Optus in the 1990s for subscription television, specifically Foxtel, to also deliver high-speed broadband.

The cable connection then goes through to a connection point in your home, similar to the one used for Pay TV delivery and then to a modem historically provided by Telstra or Optus. As the NBN continues to be rolled out, ultimately the HFC cables will be integrated into the NBN as part of the long term Multi-Technology Mix strategy.

How fast is HFC Cable?

HFC Cable is capable of delivering relatively fast broadband speeds, at least in a downstream direction, with essentially two speed tiers for current cable products on the market. The base line of any current HFC Cable plan will provide download speeds of up to 30Mbps down, with the option to pay extra for a speed boost of up to 100Mbps downstream.

HFC Cable is nowhere near as capable at the current time of matching or even coming near those speeds for uploads, however, with typical quoted speeds of only up to 2Mbps.

There is a very important caveat to the HFC speed story, however. HFC is a shared spectrum product, and what that means is that the speed available to you is not only dependent on the service you’re accessing (as it is with any Internet product or service) but also the activities of other users on the same connection point as you are. It’s very common for cable users to experience a dip in speed during peak usage times due to this, which is why all plans are sold with an "up to" qualifier.

Where is HFC Cable available?

Telstra and Optus both concentrated their cable rollout plans in metropolitan areas only when they were first laid out, and since they’ve long since stopped rolling cable, those are the areas where it is available. That said, with the NBN rollout progressing, both telcos are moving away from promoting their cable products.

How can I compare HFC Cable plans?

Speed

Providers tend to only sell two essential "tiers" of HFC Cable products, with the lower up to 30Mbps plans being markedly cheaper. If download speeds are essential, an optional speed boost will increase your theoretical maximum speed to 100Mbps, though upload speeds will be largely unaffected.

Cost

As with any broadband plan, you can pay a little for a small usage plan if that suits your needs or quite a bit more for additional data and services. It’s worth noting that the relative lack of competition in the HFC Cable space means that there’s really no such thing as a "budget" HFC plan, however.

Optus and Telstra also differ markedly in their current HFC Cable plan approaches, with all but the entry-level Optus plan coming with unlimited data bundles, while Telstra still uses fixed data quotas on all of its cable plans.

With the NBN beginning to include HFC cable broadband as part of its multi-technology approach to broadband, expect other providers to begin offering standard speeds and speed boost packages as well.

Will I need a new modem for HFC Cable broadband?

Both Optus and Telstra use specific modems – at the time of writing, both utilise Netgear modems, although Optus’ variant includes a phone port for the provision of phone services as well – that only work with their respective cable services.

Both providers supply a modem as a matter of course with their contract cable plans. For what it’s worth, Optus does supply a list of modems that may be compatible with its cable network, but Telstra has no such public facing model list.

If you find that the wireless part of the supplied cable modem is lacking, you can always connect a regular router of any type to the supplied cable modem and place it in Bridge Mode to enable the router to take over Internet provisioning. This should work, although neither Optus nor Telstra will specifically provide support for you doing so.

What other extras should I look for?

  • Bundled TV extras: Optus frequently bundles its Fetch TV set top box with its HFC Cable plans, offering a variety of additional channels, some of which are free on the higher tier plans.
  • Discounts for other bundling: Because HFC Cable is currently only offered by the two big telcos, it’s worth checking if you can score a discount on your plan price by bundling other services you may already be buying from them at the time of signing your contract. Depending on the current deal you might not get anything, but it’s definitely worth trying to save money over a two year contract especially.

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2 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    TangoJune 24, 2017

    Hi Team

    Your finder.com information provided on Broadband services in general is clearly explained, unbiased and informative. However, a confusion exists in your advertised cost for the Bundle package called, (Telstra Home Internet M Bundle – Cable with Speed Boost for $110 with up to 100 mbps and unlimited calls to standard local and national fixed lines and standard Australian mobiles.)

    When you click on your ‘Go to site’ link next to your advertised bundle on your site, the information found on the linked telstra site does not offer Speeds up to 100mbps for your advertised price of $110.

    You might want to clarify if your details are correct or my details obtained by selecting the same options on the telstra shop site are more than you quote of $110 (a speed boost from 25 mbps to 100 mbps is an add-on cost of $20/mth and the included calls cost more – $15/mth, taking the cost up to between $126 and $146(if a Netgear Frontier modem is needed).

    Can you please clarify if I am correct? Thanks

    Tango

    • Staff
      JonathanJune 24, 2017Staff

      Hello Tango!

      Speeds of up to 100mbps is a maximum hypothetical speed that can be attained using HFC cable technology. Most telco providers in Australia will have the same disclosure on this matter. Speeds are never guaranteed as they are affected by multitude of factors such as your distance to the exchange, technical limitations, the bandwidth demand in your area, devices connected, etc.

      If you wish to understand this better, you may check the Critical Information Summary or talk this out with your network provider.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Jonathan

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