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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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Telstra blames NBN for H1 profit plummeting by AU$500 million

Telstra gained mobile customers, but lost revenue due to the migration of customers to the NBN.

Optus also blames NBN for profit drop

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NBN finally has a 50Mbps or quicker majority network

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Good enough 5G fixed-wireless broadband could change everything

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Cars

Your new Porsche Taycan just got easier to track

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Porsche Taycan buyers will be able to stop pestering their dealer as they wait for their all-electric sedan to arrive, with the automaker adding a new way to track production of the luxury EV. The Taycan – which received several updates for the 2021 model year, not least a bump in estimated electric range – is the second model to be added to Porsche’s Track Your Dream service.

Launched back in May 2020, Track Your Dream is basically the equivalent of obsessively hitting refresh on a FedEx or UPS shipment, but for your new Porsche. It covers the vehicle from the point of order, through to manufacturing in Germany, and then as it arrives in the US.

In total, Porsche says, there are fourteen milestones that the system counts down. That includes the start and end of production, the Taycan being loaded onto a boat in Germany and then arriving at a US port, and then its arrival at the local dealership where it’ll be prepped for handover. The app and web interface also show more background detail on each step, to help clear up confusion and also tide you over while you wait for the keys.

Porsche launched the system last year, but only for one model: the 911. The full range of that car was added, whether you were going for the most affordable 911 Carrera at $99,200, to a flagship 911 Turbo S Cabriolet at $216,300. Now, the full Taycan line-up has been added too.

That includes the freshly-announced 2021 Taycan RWD, which does away with the all-wheel drive of the previously released models. It still has 402 horsepower in Launch Control mode, and can do 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds. Range is yet to be confirmed, however, but it’s priced from $81,250 including destination.

The rest of the model year 2021 Taycan line-up, however, has seen a range boost. In the case of the 2021 Taycan 4S with Performance Battery Plus – currently the largest pack that Porsche offers – the new car is expected to hit 227 miles under EPA testing. That’s 24 miles more than the 2020 version of the EV.

Porsche delivered 4,414 Taycan to US buyers last year, with the automaker saying that around a quarter of those went to owners in California. That’s despite Taycan production being shut down for several weeks, after the pandemic forced Porsche to pause its factories.

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Kia confirms talks for cooperation on electric cars with foreign firms

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Not long ago, a rumor surfaced that Kia and Apple would be working together on an autonomous electric vehicle. Neither company confirmed they were working together on a car. However, Kia has confirmed that it is reviewing cooperation on self-driving electric vehicles with multiple foreign firms.

The Korean automaker did not confirm that it was working with Apple. Kia confirmed it was working with foreign firms on electric vehicles in a regulatory filing. Kia’s stock price increased nearly 20 percent since rumors of it working with Apple began. Kia’s parent company, Hyundai Motor Group, has reportedly decided Kia will be in charge of cooperation with Apple on electric vehicles.

The most recent report cited unnamed industry sources claiming to be familiar with the deal. While Kia hasn’t confirmed that it would be working with Apple, Hyundai Motor Company did confirm that it was in early talks with Apple after rumors first surfaced that discussions for electric cars and batteries were happening. That rumor pushed shares in Hyundai up nearly 25 percent, but there has been no confirmation by Apple.

This all comes after reports last month that Apple was moving forward with its own vehicle using its own breakthrough battery technology. That report claimed vehicle production could happen as early as 2024. Other reports have indicated that vehicle production could start much later than 2024.

Apple has been working on autonomous electric vehicle technology for a long time. It was believed that Apple had abandoned the project for a while, but it now seems those reports were incorrect. One question that remains is if Apple is providing autonomous and battery technologies to other automakers or if the vehicle will be an actual Apple product.

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Dacia Bigster Concept is a bigger and more stylish Duster SUV

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Most US buyers are not privy to Dacia, a Romanian car brand and Renault subsidiary, known for making affordable, reliable, and quirky vehicles like the Sandero and Duster SUV. Most recently, Renault unveiled the 5 concept electric vehicle to coincide with the brand’s ‘Renaulution’ business strategy, and it seems Dacia is along for the ride with its newest Bigster concept SUV.

“Dacia will stay Dacia, always offering a trustworthy, authentic, best value-for-money proposition to smart buyers,” said Denis Le Vot, CEO of Dacia and Lada brands.

Part of ‘Renaulution’ is a new Dacia-Lada business partnership to boost both brand’s competitiveness through shared engineering and manufacturing. “With the creation of the Dacia-Lada business unit, we’ll have everything we need to bring the brands to higher lands, with the Bigster Concept leading the way,” added Le Vot.

This new partnership will enable Dacia and Lada to scale down from eighteen body styles to eleven while moving from four to a single platform to reduce manufacturing and engineering costs without compromising rigidity and design. Dacia and Lada will use the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s all-new CMF-B modular platform, which debuted in the all-new Renault Clio in 2019.

It’s the same platform underneath Dacia’s Bigster Concept SUV, a 4.6-meter long family hauler that paves the brand’s entrant in the highly-competitive C-segment. “Dacia Bigster Concept epitomizes the evolution of the brand,” said Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, Dacia Design director. “It proves that accessible is not opposed by any means to attractiveness. At Dacia, we believe so, and this car is proof.”

Viewed from the side, the Dacia Bigster resembles a hulked-up version of the Duster. The rear profile in particular, with its rising window line and powerful haunches, is reminiscent of the Mitsubishi Montero or Pajero Sport SUV (remember, Mitsubishi is also part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance). However, the concept has “no bells and whistles, no chrome trim or imitation aluminum,” said Dacia, and the protective exterior panels are crafted from raw, recycled plastic materials.

Powering the Dacia Bigster is a combination of alternative-energy or hybrid powertrains. We’re expecting Bigster to have the same Bi-Fuel (dual petrol and LPG engine) technology as the Sandero and Duster, but an all-electric model is a distinct possibility. Meanwhile, Dacia is set to unveil Europe’s most affordable electric car, the Spring, later this year.

Dacia Bigster Concept Gallery

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