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NBN has purchased almost 30,000 kilometres of copper

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(Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet)

The company responsible for deploying Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) has almost doubled the total amount of copper it has purchased since October 22, 2017.

“As at 19 February 2019, NBN Co has purchased 29,460km of copper cable, which has typically been used for the link between existing pillars and new nodes.”, the company said in response to a Senate Estimates Questions on Notice published this week.

“A significant proportion of this figure is also due to FTTC network construction for short extensions of copper lead-in cables to the FTTC DPU location.”

NBN had previously disclosed that it had bought 16,600 kilometres of copper almost eighteen months ago.

The company also revealed that less than half of the premises in its fixed wireless areas had taken up such services, and fibre-to-the-node (FttN) uptake was tracking lower than the company needed to meet its financial goals.

“In Fixed Wireless areas, which have been [ready for service] for 18 months or more, the percentage of premises with at least one active service is 45.18 per cent,” the NBN said.

“Because there is no compulsory migration off legacy copper services in fixed wireless areas, people can choose to maintain a copper service either instead of, or as well as, connecting to fixed wireless.”

Despite the low uptake, the technology has still suffered from congestion.

At the start of the year, the NBN had given itself until September to have less than 1 percent of its fixed wireless towers suffer from congestion.

The company defined congestion as being a 30-day average busy hour throughput of under 6Mbps.

By the middle of the year, the NBN said it would be set to offer a best-effort fixed wireless service that it claimed would offer 60/20Mbps in non-busy periods. It also has plans to drop its top-tier 25-50/5-20 Mbps plan by the end of 2019.

In another question answered this week, NBN said it needed a take up rate of 73 to 75 percent to meet its financial targets, however in areas where FttN has been available and the old copper network is switched off, the uptake up rate has sat at 72 percent.

NBN also disclosed that between July 1, 2018 and February 28, 2019, 114,093 technician appointments were missed, with 35,546 being completed later on the same day.

“A missed appointment refers to where a technician did not attend the premises within the agreed appointment window, as per the service level schedule,” the company said.

In many of these cases, the technician turned up earlier or later than the stipulated time but completed the job on the day. The number also included some cases where the end-user was not in attendance or where bad weather restricted the ability to complete the job.

NBN further said its average monthly download per end user was 235GB at January, with the median monthly download being 125GB.

On February 19, NBN had 5936 employees and 663 contractors on its payroll, with 762 staff in its IT department, and 71 in its corporate affairs division, 30 of which were on its NBN local teams. The corporate affairs division was budgeted to cost AU$21.7 million for the 2018-19 financial year.

In the Australian federal budget delivered last night, the Regional Broadband Scheme charge that helped fund NBN’s loss-making satellite and fixed wireless services was slated to be cut from AU$10 a month to AU$7.10 and be indexed with inflation.

However, it is not clear how much of the Budget will be enacted, as the government is expected to call a May election this weekend.

In its most recent set of financials, NBN reported its half-year revenue had hit AU$1.3 billion, and announced a 65 percent improvement in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation, up from the negative AU$1.4 billion reported this time last year to negative AU$477 million.

Earlier this year, retailer Vocus said the variable nature of the CVC pricing model used by NBN was incompatible with the fixed rates paid by consumers and that the economics did not stack up.

Vocus said NBN pricing was “simply too high”, and it was cashflow negative after providing modems and backhaul.

Consequently, the company said it would focus on selling NBN only where viable and shifting towards fixed wireless and mobile solutions. Vocus pointed to non-NBN services being simpler with lower operating costs and 5G creating a path for business applications as reasons for the switch.

Related Coverage

Australian Budget 2019: NBN regional subsidy charge reduced

The subsidy charge to help fund the NBN’s loss-making satellite and fixed-wireless regional networks has been reduced from AU$10 to AU$7.10 a month.

Canberra kicks in AU$220m to regional telco program

The government will fund two more mobile blackspots rounds with AU$160 million, and a Regional Connectivity Program with AU$60 million.

TPG quarterly profit drops 76 percent after Huawei ban

While the mobile network abandonment brought down TPG’s Q1 results, the telco also made less revenue thanks to the broadband market erosion caused by the NBN rollout.

NBN partners with Cisco for business solutions and compensation

The two will combine on business solutions across connectivity, security, collaboration, and productivity, as well as a marketing campaign and a rebate program.

Software update takes out NBN satellite users

Remedy offered to users still affected is to power cycle modem and NBN network termination device.

Vocus getting out of NBN land grab to focus on fibre links and wireless

NBN is complex and economically unattractive, and retail will shift towards fixed wireless and mobile, the company has said.

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2021 Honda Ridgeline Review: Looking the part

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Brand identity is a tricky thing to get right. If the second-generation Ridgeline had a problem, it was that it was just too similar, from the front at least, to Honda’s Pilot. That’s not a bad looking SUV, no, but if you weren’t confusing the Ridgeline for its (mechanically similar) sibling, you were probably questioning its softer aesthetics compared to most rival pickups.

There is, for better or worse, a design language we expect from trucks. While practicality is king, they also have to look burly and tough; we expect road presence and a sense of invulnerability, too. The original Ridgeline was odd-looking enough that the conversation instantly shifted to that love-it-or-hate-it appearance, but Honda’s second attempt was just close enough to a family SUV to be an outlier in its segment.

Ironically, of course, a family-minded pickup is just what the Ridgeline always has been, and what it excels at. Driving one is a reminder that trucks don’t need to be lumpy and coarse; they don’t need to wallow and flex across pockmarked asphalt. The Ridgeline’s issue was that it looked a little too much like the SUV it drove like, and so that’s what Honda has changed.

The 2021 Ridgeline gets a brand new front, with everything forward of the A-pillar redesigned. The grille is beefier and more dominant, with wider, scalloped mesh and – on some trims – a chromed strip over the top. It’s more upright, too, between new LED headlamps, while the hood bulges to emphasize the standard V6 engine.

Chunkier plastic cladding for the arches and a new lower bumper add to that visual heft (Honda, ever eager to make maximum use of a change, also uses the functional side vents in that bumper to create aerodynamically-beneficial air curtains around the side of the Ridgeline). New skid plates, a new rear bumper and a 20mm wider track help keep the whole thing looking planted, meaty, and like it’s taking pickup heritage a little more seriously.

My Sport review model came equipped with the $2,800 Honda Performance Development (HPD) Package. That adds 18-inch HPD alloy wheels in a rather fetching gold, plus special fender flares, a unique grille, and – edging on a little too much for my tastes – various HPD decals and emblems. Alternatively there are more practically-minded options packs, like the $1,465 Utility Package with its running boards, roof rails, and crossbars, or the Function+ Package which, for $1,315, adds a hard tonneau cover, cargo nets for the bed and trunk, and cargo dividers.

Pricing starts at $36,490 (plus $1,175 destination) and climbs to $43,920 for the top-spec Black Edition.

The new garb hasn’t diluted the Ridgeline’s core usability, though, and that’s what stands out most. Pickups are a playground for automakers looking to throw in some cunning cubbies and tie-downs, but the Honda arguably got that first with its imaginatively usable extras. The tailgate not only drops down but can swing out sideways, for example, while under half the bed there’s a huge trunk compartment.

You can lock the lid to that, and use it for valuables, or fill it full of ice and treat it as a massive drinks cooler. A drain port on the bottom makes emptying it easier. It’s one of my favorite pickup features, because there are times you just don’t want to have things sliding around the bed.

Speaking of that, the Ridgeline can handle up to 1,589 pounds of payload, and minimal intrusions into the bed mean you can lay 4 foot wide sheets of plywood down flat. For towing, it’s rated for 5,000 pounds: not as high as some rivals, no, but probably sufficient for most drivers’ requirements. RTL-E and Black Edition trims get a 150W/400W power outlet in the bed too, and all trims have bed lighting.

The other big change for the 2021 model year is the drivetrain. Gone is the front-wheel drive Ridgeline option – hence the starting price seemingly jumping up – with all-wheel drive now standard. Not just any AWD, either: it’s Honda’s iVTM-4 system, with torque vectoring. Up to 70-percent of the 3.5-liter V6’s 280 horsepower can be shifted back to the rear axle, and from there up to 100-percent of that power can be funneled to the left or right wheels depending on which has the most traction.

Compared to the AWD systems on rival pickups it’s positively space-age. On the road, it contributes significantly to how SUV-like the Ridgeline feels: planted and steady, with the suspension level and predictable, and none of that unexpected squirming some trucks can suffer when they’re underloaded and you suddenly gas things up. The 9-speed automatic transmission is dependable and shifts with greater urgency if you tap the button-shifter into Sport mode.

The downside, though, is that some of the more mechanically-minded settings four-wheel drive competitors have are absent. There are modes modes for different off-road conditions, yes, but the Honda lacks locking differentials and dedicated low-range gearing.

I’m of a mind that, for the target audience – and, quite frankly, most pickup drivers were they to buy with their head not their heart – this is more than enough. If your motivation to get a truck is for those occasional times you need to haul something obstinate, the Ridgeline will probably be up to the task. The rest of the time you can drive it as comfortably as you would, yes, a Pilot.

According to the EPA you’ll get 18 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, or 21 mpg combined. That bests Chevrolet’s Silverado 4WD with the 2.7-liter turbo, and Ford’s F-150 4WD with its 3.5L turbo. My own mixed driving clocked in at nearly 22 mpg.

Inside, the changes are a little less dramatic. There’s new cloth seats on this Sport trim, and new accents on the dashboard, center console, and steering wheel; all Ridgeline versions get new contrast stitching on the seats. Cubbies and bins aplenty ape the bed practicality, including a huge lidded central box and big door pockets. The second row gets plenty of legroom and a useful 2.9 cu-ft box under the bench. Everything feels sturdy and reliable, though that’s not to say it’s uncomfortable or spartan.

The 8-inch Display Audio infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard now, and 2021 brings back the physical volume knob and adds a wireless phone charging pad to higher trims. Honda Sensing is standard too, with Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Forward Collision Warnings, and Lane Departure Warnings. You also get a multi-angle reversing camera, lane-keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control; RTL and above trims have blind spot warnings.

2021 Honda Ridgeline Verdict

Like in the best makeover shows, you’re rooting from the Ridgeline from the start. Honda’s pickup always had most of the practicality required to satisfy everyday truck drivers. What it lacked wasn’t ability but aesthetic, and don’t let anybody tell you pickup buyers are any less swayed by that than those shopping for a sports car.

What stands out in the 2021 Ridgeline is how comprehensively Honda has addressed that while avoiding diluting any of the truck’s underlying charm. It’s eminently drivable, leaves you no more tired when you slip from behind the wheel after a long journey than a Pilot might, and its on-road dynamics are a level above what most rivals bring to the table. Potential pickup buyers who don’t genuinely consider it are doing themselves a disservice, and now they don’t have looks to excuse that oversight.

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750,000 popular GM trucks & SUVs are under NHTSA airbag investigation

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US vehicle safety regulators are investigating almost 750,000 recent vehicles from Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac, after reports of faulty airbags that in some cases led to injuries. Fifteen consumer complaints have been raised with the NHTSA, spanning luxury sedans, popular full-sized pickup trucks such as the Silverado, and large SUVs including the Escalade and Suburban.

“The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has received fifteen consumer complaints on alleged air bag system malfunctions on certain General Motors (GM) vehicles,” the NHTSA said. “Nine of the consumer complaints allege the illumination of an air bag malfunction indicator (MIL). Six crash incidents have significant frontal collision damage where driver frontal air bags failed to deploy.”

The list includes Chevrolet’s Silverado, Sierra, Tahoe, Suburban, along with GMC’s Yukon and Yukon XL. Cadillac’s Escalade and Escalade ESV, and its CT4, CT5, and XT4 models are also included. Both 2020 and 2021 model years are affected in the investigation, the NHTSA confirmed.

A previous GM Technical Service Bulletin, issued in March 2021, focused on potential airbag issues which led to the safety equipment not correctly inflating during a crash. The MIL would light up and the vehicle would report diagnostic trouble codes B0001-1B or B0012-0D, GM explained. In that situation, in a frontal collision, the airbag might not deploy.

GM highlighted rust particles in the driver airbag inflator’s connection terminal interface as the cause of the MIL showing. Rather than a recall of the vehicles, GM instead notified dealers and service centers so that they would be aware of the rust particle issue.

Currently, there are no deaths associated with the airbag failures. However, according to the ODI, of the 15 complaints there have been 6 connected crashes, with 8 injuries recorded. An estimated 749,312 vehicles – many of which are among Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac’s most popular – are affected.

“To the extent there are vehicles in the field that experience this condition, those vehicles will be repaired under warranty,” GM told the AP. However, the automaker insisted that its analysis suggested that, even if the malfunction light illuminates, the airbag should still inflate in the case of a crash. It said it was unaware of any incidents where airbags failed to deploy correctly.

The NHTSA’s investigation will explore the extent of the problem, and whether further efforts are required on GM’s part to address it more completely. In November, the agency ruled that GM should recall a further six million pickups and SUVs over potential airbag issues related to the huge Takata recall, which affected much of the auto industry.

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Audi Q4 e-tron: The 4 things US buyers need to know

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Audi’s Q4 e-tron has been officially revealed, and what’s arguably the automaker’s most important car in years is aiming to upend how realistic going electric is. Squeezing an unexpectedly spacious cabin into a compact crossover footprint, and introducing new tech like an AR head-up display, the Q4 e-tron isn’t landing in the US quite yet but we can fill you in on some of the key details.

Audi US’ Q4 e-tron range will be trimmed down

Audi is making a number of different versions of the Q4 e-tron and the Q4 Sportback e-tron, but for the US it’s keeping things relatively simple. There’ll be just three different primary models, in fact.

The entry-level car will be the 2022 Q4 40 e-tron with rear-wheel drive. That will have a single electric motor delivering 150 kW (201 horsepower), and is estimated to do 0-62 mph in 8.5 seconds. In Europe, at least, Audi will limit its top speed to 99 mph.

Audi US will also offer the 2022 Q4 50 e-tron quattro, which will have two electric motors for all-wheel drive. It’ll offer 220 kW (298 hp) and 339 lb-ft of torque, and do 0-62 mph in 6.2 seconds. Top speed is 112 mph.

Finally, the 2022 Q4 Sportback e-tron 50 quattro will have the same motors, performance, and top speed. However it will use the sleeker body style, with a more aggressively angled tailgate and an integrated spoiler.

All three versions will offer various equipment packages, but that’s something else Audi has said it’s aiming to streamline this time. Rather than lots of different options, there’ll be just a handful of packs to add, depending on whether you want more technology, comfort, or driver-assistance.

Audi Q4 e-tron EPA range

Audi has two battery sizes it’ll be offering in the Q4 e-tron generally, but the US will only be getting one, and it’s the bigger of the two. The 82 kWh pack has 77 kWh of driver-usable energy, though so far Audi has only revealed range numbers for Europe, using the WLTP test cycle.

In the rear-wheel drive Q4 e-tron, that battery will do 323 miles on the WLPT cycle, Audi says. In the all-wheel drive Q4 e-tron quattro, meanwhile, it will do 303 miles. The slightly more aerodynamic Q4 Sportback e-tron quattro, meanwhile, will do 309 miles.

For charging, all three versions of the EV will support both up to 11 kW AC charging at home, and up to 125 kW DC fast charging.

Unfortunately, the WLTP test cycle tends to be more generous than the US EPA’s range testing. Audi doesn’t have official EPA figures yet, and those won’t come until closer to the US-spec EV’s release. However, the automaker tells us that it’s expecting around 250 miles of EPA range from the entry-level rear-wheel drive Q4 e-tron. Expect less than that from the quattro version.

US pricing for the Q4 e-tron

While Audi has confirmed pricing for the Q4 e-tron for Europe, the final numbers for the US haven’t been officially decided yet. However, the automaker tells us that it expects the entry-level model to be priced under $45,000 when it goes on sale.

Audi still qualifies for the US federal tax credit for new EV purchases, meanwhile, so that could knock $7,500 off the cost of a new Q4 e-tron. Further state and local subsidies might bring the price tag down even further.

US Q4 e-tron buyers will need to be patient

Unsurprisingly, Europe will get the 2022 Q4 e-tron and Q4 Sportback e-tron first. There, the first examples of the Q4 e-tron should be headed to dealerships in June; the Sportback will lag a little arriving in the late Summer. For the US, meanwhile, even more patience is required.

Audi says it’s still finalizing availability for North America. However the current plan is to have the Q4 e-tron arrive in US dealerships toward the end of 2021. It’s possible that won’t include every trim, at least on day one, however.

In previous EV launches, Audi has kicked things off with a special launch edition of its cars. Dubbed the Q4 e-tron Edition One in this case, those cars have been confirmed for Europe though not the US yet. They’ll offer two colors – Geyser Blue and Typhoon Gray – along with a high level of equipment and the promise of being among the first in town to have the new EV. We’ll find out whether Audi USA has the same plan in mind closer to the 2022 Q4 e-tron’s release later this year.

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