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NBN pricing review adds new plans, CVC pools, and TCP/IP header overhead



Two charismatic gentlemen: Minister Paul Fletcher and NBN CEO Stephen Rue

Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet

The company responsible for deploying the National Broadband Network (NBN) has announced the outcome of its wholesale pricing review, with the company confirming its September plan to add 100/20, 250/25, and 1000/50Mbps speed tiers, allowing retailers to pool unused CVC on a national basis, and deciding to add an allowance for TCP/IP headers above its layer 2 remit.

The extra bandwidth allocation to its layer 2 services will only be applied on the downstream where network capacity permits from mid-2020, NBN said.

“RSP feedback to this proposal was strongly positive. Subject to internal operational requirements, NBN intends to introduce an overhead allowance for the downstream component of the majority of NBN Ethernet speed tiers delivered over fixed-line technologies,” NBN said.

“Where possible, NBN Co will provision this allowance into its wholesale speed tiers to accommodate protocol overhead, which includes the code used to ensure the correct delivery of data packets that otherwise impact a customer’s broadband speed.”

Gigabit plans would not receive the allocation.

They actually did it: ACCC decides NBN needs to cater beyond its layer 2 remit

On the CVC front, a constant pain point for retailers, NBN said it would extend the current CVC pooling process for its discount bundles, which can currently happen at its points of interconnect, into a national pooling mechanism. This change is due to happen in May 2020.

“NBN Co will extend this pooling mechanism to the national level across RSPs’ fixed line and fixed wireless services,” it said.

“RSPs will be able to more cost-efficiently purchase capacity to serve fixed and fixed wireless customers across all Connectivity Serving Areas anywhere in Australia, making it simpler for retailers and helping them to manage costs.”

The company also confirmed it would introduce plans at the 100/20, 250/25, and 1000/50Mbps speed tiers in May.

The wholesale cost of the new plans, respectively, will be AU$58 per month for 3.75Mbps of included capacity, AU$68 per month with 4.75Mbps of included capacity, and AU$80 per month with 5.75Mbps of included capacity.

The included capacity would be bumped up by 0.5Mbps for all three plans in May 2021.

See also: Snake and ladders as Australian broadband realigns towards NBN

“In response to RSP, ACCC and industry calls for price reductions on entry level wholesale products, we introduced a modified 12/1 Entry Level Bundle on 1 October 2019, and we fast-tracked a rebalancing of our 25Mbps bundle discount, which will be implemented on 6 December 2019,” NBN residential chief customer officer Brad Whitcomb said.

“Since 2016, we have more than halved the effective wholesale price of CVC, which applies to purchased capacity.”

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher hailed the recent increase in 12Mbps plans on the NBN as “great news”.

“The introduction of the discounted entry level wholesale bundle has been successful in helping more Australians get online, with the take-up of the 12Mbps bundle more than doubling since the discount was introduced in October,” he said.

Last week, former Communications Minister cum Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the NBN a hell of an achievement.

“There is no country, comparable developed country, which has as ubiquitous availability of high-speed broadband as Australia,” Turnbull said at the StartCon conference.

“Ubiquitous broadband is a really good idea. The way Labor went about it was insane, certifiably insane. The New Zealanders did a much better job.” 

Related Coverage

NBN restructure sees fixed wireless and satellite moved into new business unit

The new regional and remote business unit to control all aspects of NBN on those technology types.

Telstra to contact NBN customers on slow services

Customers with high speeds plans on connections not capable of those speeds to be offered refunds.

Some of NBN’s 8,000 non-serviceable premises waiting over 36 months: Telstra

Telstra worried that NBN does not have a plan to deal with left-behind premises.

NBN increasing 12Mbps connections for first time in a year: ACCC

Over 1 million premises are once again on the lowest speed tier available on the NBN.

ACCC keeps prices flat for legacy non-NBN fixed line services

Prices for legacy wholesale ADSL, unconditioned local loop service, and fixed originating and terminating access services to remain unchanged until June 2024.

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Apple Car made by Kia might still be on the table



The past few weeks saw a rather amusing circus of reports, leaks, rumors, and speculation about who Apple will choose to work with to make the long-rumored “Apple Car” electric vehicle. A slip of the tongue may have cost Hyundai that prized position but, as always in the world of business, not everything is what it seems from the outside. Industry sources are now talking anew about how things may still work in Kia’s favor but that partnership might not be what people or even shareholders expect it to be.

Earlier this year, Hyundai slipped and revealed that it was in talks with Apple over electric car plans. Other names were thrown around, including Kia, which is part of the Hyundai Motor Group, but Hyundai later retracted its statement, denying it was in such talks. According to rumors, Apple was none too happy about the way Hyundai handled the secrecy.

That, however, doesn’t mean things are over between Apple and Hyundai, especially for Kia. The latter was considered one of the best options to make the Apple Car considering it has a production plant in Georgia in the US. Korean news site Chosun Biz reveals that negotiations between Apple and Kia haven’t completely collapsed but it might revolve around electric cars specifically.

According to its sources, Apple and Hyundai Motor Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) last year that covers collaboration in eight sectors. That does include electric vehicles but the latter also covers what is referred to as “last mile” mobility, covering the short distance between car or vehicle to the door. Analysts say that Hyundai’s statements about its communication with Apple don’t negate this possibility.

Unsurprisingly, Kia shares rose after this news broke out, even if it may not be the Apple Car envisioned and expected by everyone. It might, however, be an easier market for Apple to break into instead of jumping into self-driving electric cars immediately.

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2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Review – When you can only choose one



If your dream garage only has space for one car, you could do a lot worse than fill it with the 2021 Audi RS7 Sportback. Not for nothing has the A7 carved out a space at the top of luxury four-door fastback list. Mercedes’ CLS may have got there first, but Audi’s pared-back styling refined it, and the A7 has arguably come to epitomize the “four-door coupe” category.

The RS7 takes that pretty base and packs it off to Marine bootcamp. With an even crisper body kit, more aggressive wheels, and of course a burly twin-turbo V8, the $114,000 Sportback will still cosset just as neatly as an A7 can, but now you get 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque to play with. 0-60 mph arrives in 3.5 seconds, the 4.0-liter engine keeping things going to a top speed of 174 mph or – with the $8,500 ceramic brakes package – 190 mph.

Even among Audi’s handsome line-up, the RS7 stands out. My Tango Red Metallic review car was hardly a surreptitious shade, though the $1,000 sport exhaust’s burble turned heads even before the bright red paint job came into view. It’s wider and sharper in the detailing than the regular A7, trading some of the timeless elegance of that car’s curves and strakes in favor of aggressively gaping grilles and vents.

The $2,750 Black Optic package throws on black exterior trim and gets you the glorious 22-inch V-spoke matte titanium wheels. 21-inchers are standard and would probably help smooth out some of the rumbles over lesser asphalt, though with its standard RS-tuned adaptive air suspension in Comfort mode it’s surprisingly compliant.

Though you could cruise around like that, better to switch to Dynamic mode where the RS7 has the goods to back up its looks. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard, as is a sport rear differential and electromechanical progressive steering. You also get four-wheel steering. The combination of raw power and tech means it’s exceedingly easy to make the RS7 go very, very fast.

Some recent S-badged Audi models have been dinged by virtue of being a little too restrained in their sportiness. The RS7 makes no such stumbles. Wet roads, snow, slush, tight turns or lengthy straights, nothing seems to make a difference to how willing the Sportback is when it comes to throwing itself forward and gripping until it’s your nerves, not the adhesion, that gives.

The 3.5 seconds to sixty sounds, frankly, conservative: the RS7 snarling through its achingly rapid 8-speed Tiptronic transmission. But don’t go thinking this red rocket is a one-trick pony for the straight line: the addition of rear-wheel steering and that trick differential swings the power around predictably and potently. It’s a sweet balance of the reassurance of Quattro and the purist pleasure of rear-wheel drive.

I didn’t have the carbon brakes and I can’t say I felt I needed them. The standard steel versions – comprising ventilated 16.5-inch front discs and 14.6-inch rear discs – don’t lack in bite. As for the 48v mild hybrid system, it’s more there to smooth out the stop/start system and keep the electronics running.

As a result, thirst can be an issue. The 2021 RS7 is rated for 15 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 17 mpg combined. They’re about realistic, if you drive it as you might an A7 but, of course, you won’t.

Inside, the A7’s cabin gets a makeover to leave it feeling suitably special. The core niceties remain: a dual touchscreen infotainment system, with Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium sound, four-zone climate control, power sunroof, and Sirius XM. Audi’s MMI keeps getting refinements: it’s clean and crisp, easy to navigate, and the lower display keeps things like HVAC controls available persistently even if you’re projecting Apple CarPlay or Android Auto up top. Dedicated buttons for the drive modes are joined by an RS button on the wheel, which you can configure to your choice of settings for one-touch access.

The $2,500 Executive Package extends the leather and adds heated rear seats, power soft-closing doors, and a head-up display. There’s a surprising amount of space in the rear, too, even for taller folks, while the 24.9 cu-ft of cargo space is almost the same as you get in an Q5 SUV.

In fact the only frustration, really, is that the Driver Assistance Package is a $2,250 option. That adds adaptive cruise control with lane-assistance, upgrades the active safety tech to include Audi side assist, rear cross traffic, and pre-sense rear, plus intersection assistance. I can’t help but feel like it should come standard, as the parking sensors, 360 camera, forward collision warning and assistance, and lane departure warnings do.

All-in, including $1,045 destination, my review car totaled up to $125,140. Not cheap, certainly, but still less than the starting price of Porsche’s Panamera GTS, and for more power and arguably cleaner looks.

2021 Audi RS7 Sportback Verdict

What drives the RS7 Sportback’s charm is the absence of compromise. Need a luxury ride? Switch to Comfort and waft along. Want to make the most of driver-friendly roads? Hit the RS button on the wheel and get ready for some fun. Need to stock up on a month’s groceries in one go? That big trunk is surprisingly capacious.

For me, that adds up to a worthy candidate for the one-car-dream-garage crown. Indeed if there’s a competitor, it may very well be coming from inside the house. The 2022 Audi RS e-tron GT quattro will have 589 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque and do 0-60 in 3.1 seconds; it’s also all-electric so as well as the everyday flexibility you’ll be able to avoid the gas station, too.

Perhaps, then, the EV is the future. For now, though, the 2021 RS7 Sportback is the sports car of choice for all seasons.

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2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch gets brown leather and a Western charm



For the first time ever, the 2021 Ford Explorer is getting a King Ranch version this spring. The King Ranch name is derived from a ranch in Texas and has been offered in previous generations of the F-series pickup trucks for the past 20 years. As expected from a King Ranch Ford SUV, the newest Explorer is brimming with Western vibes.

“In 1853, Captain Richard King bootstrapped the King Ranch in the harsh landscape of southern Texas until it became a shining example of agricultural and livestock innovation and success, said Lee Newcombe, Ford Explorer marketing manager. “Ford Explorer families can now enjoy a piece of the King Ranch’s renowned craftsmanship and the multigeneration legacy that still thrives 168 years after its founding.”

According to Ford, customers want an Explorer with a more luxurious interior. The newest Explorer King Ranch has standard mahogany Mesa Del Rio leather seats. The front and second-row seats are perforated to add a premium touch, while all seats bear the illustrious ‘Running W’ King Ranch logo. Meanwhile, it also gets a Mesa Del Rio leather armrest with a King Ranch logo insert in the center console.

“Introducing King Ranch’s specialty leather, genuine wood, crafted details, and signature colors to Ford Explorer elevates the SUV’s brand,” said Janet Seymour, Ford color and materials manager. The newest Explorer King Ranch has leather door trim rollovers, a leather-wrapped instrument panel and steering wheel, and various Sapele wood appliques throughout the cabin.

Meanwhile, King Ranch Explorers have a Stone Gray mesh grille insert, bespoke 20-inch aluminum wheels with a Running W center cap, King Ranch badging, quad chrome exhaust tips, and a liftgate scuff plate. The Premium Technology package throws in massaging front seats, a larger 10.1-inch vertical touchscreen infotainment system, and a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system.

The newest 2021 Explorer King Ranch is powered by Ford’s twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine pumping out 365 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Here’s some trivia for you: Explorer King Ranch RWD is the first time a real-wheel drivetrain is available with Ford’s 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6.The engine sends power to the rear wheels (4WD is available) via a standard 10-speed automatic gearbox. The Explorer King Ranch can tow up to 5600 pounds, just right for the segment.

Safety features are aplenty in a King Ranch. Ford’s Co-Pilot 360 is standard on all Explorer trims. Still, King Ranch gets Ford Co-Pilot360 Assist+ which comes with adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and Stop-and-Go, evasive steering assist, a voice-activated navigation system, Sirius XM, and speed sign recognition, among many others.

The 2021 Ford Explorer King Ranch arrives at dealerships this spring. Base prices start at $53,595 for RWD and $55,595 for AWD.

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