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NBN flags frozen HFC connections thawing over the coming months

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(Image: APH)

Close watchers of the weekly rollout numbers from the company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia will note the number of Service Class Zero (SC0) premises had spiked just over a year ago, following the November 2017 pause on selling hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) connections.

In May, NBN labelled the ring-fencing a momentary inflating of the SC0 number, but it has stayed high ever since, with 1.4 million premises currently unable to connect to the network across all technology types.

Speaking to Senate Estimates on Tuesday night, NBN CEO Stephen Rue said that of the 1.4 million SC0 premises, 1,251,000 are HFC connections, but salvation could soon be at hand.

“There’s quite a lot of HFC premises will be made ready to connect, quite a lot in the next four months,” Rue said.

NBN was at pains to explain to senators that the number does not represent a static pool of premises, with a number leaving the SC0 classification when the HFC network was relaunched, as more are added to the network.

“At the end of this month, all of those ring-fenced premises will be released back. So what’s essentially happened is we’ve progressed from April last year, we started releasing the HFC network gradually back and testing all of our processes again, and then by June and July, we started releasing back at scale,” NBN chief network deployment officer Kathrine Dyer said.

“We have been building out a lot of new areas in HFC whilst we have been taking the premises out.”

Read: ACCAN: Low-income Australians cannot afford NBN

At the end of 2018, NBN had 512,000 active HFC premises, the company said in its half-year results last week, out of a total of 4.7 million active connections. Overall, NBN has 9.5 million premises labelled as ready for service.

Rue told Estimates that the company is “well on track” to meet its September goal of reducing congestion on its fixed wireless network to less than 1 percent having speeds under 6Mbps in busy hours threshold.

NBN’s wholesale business-grade satellite service will also see a soft launch in mid-year, before a full launch around the end of 2019, Rue added.

Australia is one of the more affordable broadband markets

The NBN CEO opened with a claim that is unlikely to be met with a chorus of agreement from the nation’s NBN retailers — that Australia is one of the more affordable broadband markets. Citing a study conducted for it by AlphaBeta which looked at 4,500 product and pricing plans in 22 countries, Rue said Australia placed seventh overall.

“The medium broadband price in Australia is equivalent to 1.4 percent of Australian per capita income, which is the seventh-lowest amongst the 22 countries analysed,” Rue said.

“And this should come as no surprise, as we must continue to remind ourselves one of the original policy goals of NBN, which was to enable more competition in the retail market through providing a wholesale-only open access service to any retailer who wanted to sell a product.”

In October, Aussie Broadband made the decision to shelve its lower-priced services after NBN ended its discount on 50Mbps connections.

“In our view, it will not be possible for providers offering a service under AU$55 a month floor price and an unlimited offering under AU$69 using the bundles,” Aussie Broadband MD Phillip Britt told ZDNet at the time.

“Providers below this price point will most likely be short-changing their customers on the CVC bandwidth provisioned.”

Also: TPG keeps top spot for download speeds in fourth NBN report

The retailer killed off any plan that was paying less than AU$55 a month, which saw customers on a 12/1Mbps or 25/5Mbps service with less than 100GB of included data.

Last week, Britt said CVC costs are holding back his company from offering unlimited data on plans faster than 100Mbps.

“The CVC pricing construct is the primary limiter here; we’ve only got 2.5Mbps of CVC allocated under the bundled model and someone on an unlimited plan on those higher tiers would have the potential to really cause some damage,” Britt said.

The Aussie Broadband chief said the 100Mbps price will come down, but it will need a write-down of the NBN for the price pressure to be passed onto consumers.

“They can’t hold onto the AU$51 [average revenue per user] amounts they are trying to achieve, because the mobile guys will wipe the floor with them,” Britt said.

“As to when it will occur, that’s hard to predict. They have released a short-term promotion around the 100/40Mbps services currently, but it has some conditions around it that requires a customer to stay with that service provider for X period of time, so its risky to implement.”

Meanwhile, Rue told the Joint Standing Committee looking into the business case for the NBN last week that there are no impairment issues that would see the company needing to write down the value of the company, and that those calling for such action are just after a wholesale price cut.

“When people say there should be a write-down, I don’t think that is what they are really calling for. Essentially, they are calling for the wholesale price to fall dramatically,” Rue said.

“Calls for a large wholesale price cut puts at risk the long-term viability of the company … without that, I truly believe you put at risk the digital future of the country, and all the benefits that flow.”

Rue reiterated on Tuesday night that NBN is banking on enterprise services and customers moving up speed tiers for the company to make its AU$51 average revenue per user (ARPU) target that will see NBN become cash-flow positive.

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Toyota teases GR Corolla sports sedan, and it looks really cool

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Many people out there want a performance car, but they can’t live with two doors for various reasons. Anyone who owns a two-door sports car or muscle car knows that getting people, pets, and other items in and out of a two-door is very difficult. Thankfully, there are a few four-door cars out there that offer performance and convenience. Back at the beginning of the year, a rumor floated around that Toyota was working on a four-door performance car known as the GR Corolla.

Toyota/Instagram

That rumor has since been confirmed. Toyota is teasing the actual car and it should get sports car enthusiasts excited. While we still don’t have any real details on what kind of power or performance the car will offer, Toyota has published images of the front, side, and rear of the GR Corolla in an Instagram post. The upcoming model will be based on the Toyota Corolla hatchback, as a previous rumor suggested.

It adds a familiar Toyota style to the car’s front end that looks very sporty and aggressive. We particularly like the shape of the headlights and the small fog lights in the lower front fascia. The wheels Toyota has chosen are very attractive, and while the GR Corolla looks sportier in the front and the back, the overall shape reminds a bit of the Ford Focus ST.

There’s an aggressive splitter on the back of the car, and it appears to have dual exhausts down low. The shape of the rear taillights mimics the shape of the front headlights, and the car has a very pronounced spoiler at the top of the rear deck lid. This spoiler looks even more aggressive when the GR Corolla is viewed from the side. A body line running down the side of the car underneath the doors gives the vehicle a wider look.

Toyota/Instagram

The photographs Toyota shared on Instagram have a disclaimer that the vehicle is shown with options. Optional exterior tidbits will likely include things like different wheels and perhaps a version of the car minus the slick rear spoiler. It is also always a possibility that the very attractive blue color seen on the GR Corolla in the images is an optional paint choice.

Previously, the GR Corolla was seen wearing camo that seemingly gave away hints about the drivetrain for the car. The camo had logos that said “GR Four,” hinting that the car would have all-wheel drive and four doors. According to Autoblog, the camouflage also had “G16” printed on it, hinting at the engine the car will use. Rumors suggest the GR Corolla will use a version of the same engine Toyota uses in the GR Yaris Japan, not hybrid power.

Another interesting rumor suggests that the GR Corolla will only be offered with a six-speed manual transmission. That’s very good news for fans of shifting gears as the number of manual transmission cars on the market today is dwindling. As for power and performance, that’s a mystery. However, rumors suggest the car will make almost 300 horsepower (via Car Sensor). Considering its compact dimensions, about 300 horsepower should make for decent performance, at least on par with the normal Subaru WRX.

One of the biggest mysteries is price. We very much want this car to be an affordable pocket rocket for the masses, but Toyota has a history of pricing its desirable vehicles higher than the competition. A perfect example is the Toyota GR86, which has less power and is rear-wheel drive only starting at $27,700 before the destination charge adds another $1025 to the price. That means buying a base level GR86 will cost you $28,725.

Toyota/Instagram

Rest assured, the GR Corolla with all-wheel drive and nearly 300 horsepower will cost more. We wager Toyota will price the car somewhere in the low to mid $30,000 range for starters. We see the GR Corolla as being ideal for competing against the Subaru WRX. A base WRX starts at $27,495 without destination charge and utilizes a 2.0-liter boxer engine with 268 horsepower. Stepping up to the WRX STI pushes the starting price to $37,245 with 310 horsepower.

It’s likely the price of the GR Corolla will split the difference between the normal WRX and the WRX STI. A likely starting price is around $35,000, but maybe Toyota will surprise us with a performance bargain. We’d love to see the GR Corolla priced like a base WRX, but the price of the GR86 pretty much eliminates that as a possibility.

There aren’t many all-wheel-drive four-door sports cars on the market today. One of the only others is the Kia Stinger packing, a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 making 368 horsepower and a starting price of $43,690. The only other sporty Corolla right now is the Corolla Apex Edition, designed for improved handling over the normal version of the economy car. We can’t wait to see the full specifications for the GR Corolla. Whatever it costs, we hope it sells well so we can get more competition in the four-door sports car segment.

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Tesla Cybertruck upgrade adds 4-motor option Elon Musk confirms

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Tesla’s Cybertruck is getting a significant platform upgrade, with Elon Musk confirming that the specifications for the controversial electric pickup will be updated before it has even gone on sale. Announced in late 2019, the Cybertruck proved divisive with its stealth bomber-inspired aesthetic, but its speed promises also set it apart from the truck status-quo.

0-60 mph, Tesla promised, could come in as little 2.9 seconds. Range, meanwhile, could be up to 500 miles on a charge. Up to three electric motors could be configured, depending on performance and traction demands.

Since then, however, we’ve seen other electric trucks join the party. Rivian’s R1T is already begin delivered to preorder customers, complete with four electric motors. GMC’s Hummer EV is set for release soon, similarly boasting a motor for each wheel. Now, Musk has confirmed, the Cybertruck is raising its game to better compete.

Initial production will now be of a four motor variant, Musk tweeted in response to rumors about why the Cybertruck configurator had recently been pulled down from the Tesla site. That’ll allow for “independent, ultra fast response torque control of each wheel,” he added.

The Cybertruck will also have both front and rear wheel steering, Musk added. That way “it can drive diagonally like a crab.”

That’s a word we’ve heard used to describe another big, outlandish EV truck, of course. GMC’s Hummer EV and Hummer EV SUV will have a “crab mode” which allows them to track diagonally. The automaker has shown how that could be useful for navigating through tighter parking lots, or – when in off-road situations – for tiptoeing along arduous paths.

Rivian’s R1T, meanwhile, is expected to add a so-called “Tank Turn” mode. By counter-rotating the front and rear wheels, the electric pickup will be able to spin on the spot.

Musk clearly isn’t unaware of the features his rivals have been talking about already, or the fact that adding a fourth electric motor to the Cybertruck will draw comparisons with those competitor EVs. “Insane technology bandwagon” the Tesla CEO tweeted, apparently aiming to preempt suggestions that the Cybertruck is copying other trucks.

It’s not, of course, like GMC or Rivian actually invented either feature. Torque vectoring, controlling the amount of power that’s directed to different wheels on a vehicle, has been commonplace for years now, particularly on sports cars where it can be used to improve cornering performance. Electric motors have the benefit of being more directly controlled – as on the hybrid Acura NSX’s wheels – versus using brakes to limit power on particular wheels.

“Tank turn” meanwhile is named after actual tanks, which could rotate in place by spinning their tracks in counter-rotating directions. As for the addition of a fourth electric motor, one of the big possibilities of EVs has always been packaging four drive motors and thus maximizing individual control at each corner of the car.

The lingering question is what this spec change means for Cybertruck reservation holders, who currently have selected between the originally-announced 1, 2, or 3 motor configurations. Musk confirmed that would be possible when asked about the potential for changes there specifically, adding that Tesla would release more details soon. “Product roadmap update on next earnings call,” he confirmed, which means we’ll likely have to wait until the end of January 2022.

As for when the Cybertruck will go into production, as of Tesla’s last update that is still fairly nebulous. The automaker plans to build the electric pickup at its new Austin facility, after Model Y production has started there.

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Carbon Edition 2022 Mazda 3 sees the Polymetal Gray trend spread

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The 2022 Mazda 3 has a new Carbon Edition trim slotting between the Preferred and Premium models. Available as a hatchback ($27,415 including $1,015 destination) or four-door sedan ($28,415), it features the same Polymetal Gray paint as Carbon Edition models of the outgoing Mazda 6, CX-5, and CX-9. It also gets a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system, black 18-inch alloy wheels, gloss black door mirrors, and red leather upholstery.

The new Mazda 3 Carbon Edition has a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine pumping out 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. It also has a six-speed automatic gearbox and a standard front-wheel drivetrain, although AWD is available as you climb the trim ladder.

Meanwhile, the base Mazda 3 2.0 is only available as a sedan. It starts at $21,815 (about $300 more than last year’s model) and has a smaller 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, turning the front wheels (FWD) via a six-speed automatic gearbox. It comes with a generous list of standard features like automatic on/off LED headlights, 16-inch silver alloy wheels, push-button start, remote keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers, a rearview camera, and an 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen display with two USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity.

If you want Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, you need to opt for the Mazda 3 2.5 S trim. Starting at around $22,765 (hatchback) and $23,765 (hatchback), it has the bigger 2.5-liter engine, front-wheel-drive, and all the standard features from the base 2.0 model.

On the other hand, the Mazda 3 2.5 S Select starts at $24,115 (sedan) and $23,765 (hatchback). It gets keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, black leatherette seats, a leather-wrapped tiller and shift knob, and 18-inch alloy wheels in silver (sedan) or gray (hatchback).

Fancy a Mazda 3 with all-wheel drive? Go for the 2.5 S Preferred starting at $27,165 (sedan AWD) and $28,165 (hatchback AWD). Other goodies for the Preferred trim include black or greige (gray and beige) leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat with power lumbar and memory settings, a gloss black front grille. Alternatively, the Mazda 3 2.5 S Preferred is also available in FWD, starting at $25,765 (sedan) and $26,765 (hatchback).

But if you like driving a stick, the 2022 Mazda 3 has you covered with the 2.5 S Premium trim. With base prices at $29,365 (FWD hatchback only), you get a Skyactiv-MT six-speed manual gearbox pairing with the naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine. It also comes with more premium goodies like a 12-speaker Bose audio system, SiriusXM, a heads-up display, standard navigation, adaptive headlights, 19-inch black alloy wheels, and leather upholstery. You can also get a Mazda 3 Premium in sedan or hatchback body styles with FWD or AWD and a six-speed automatic.

The most powerful Mazda 3 are the 2.5 Turbo and Turbo Premium Plus, both available strictly with AWD. The former starts at $31,565 (sedan) and $32,565 (hatchback), while the Turbo Premium has base prices at $34,115 (sedan) and $34,400 (hatchback). The Turbo models get a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine generating 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque on premium 93 octane gas.

The Mazda 3 Turbo has all the standard features in the 2.5 S except the leather seats and navigation system. Still, it does get an auto-dimming rearview mirror, push-button start, 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels, larger tailpipes, and Turbo badging. On the flip side, the range-topping Turbo Premium Plus has a bespoke rear roof spoiler and front air dam, full leather upholstery, and standard navigation, to mention a few.

Of course, all 2022 Mazda 3 models have Mazda’s i-Activesense safety kit, including radar cruise control, lane departure warning, high beam alert, lane-keeping assist, and smart brake support. The Mazda 3 will arrive at US dealerships this winter.

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