Cable: the Shangri-La of broadband

  • Capable of 1Gbps connections
  • Future proofed
  • Currently only available through Optus and Telstra

The first attempt to develop a network that was purpose-built for the provision of high-speed internet was by Telstra and Optus in the 1990’s. The underlying infrastructure was Hybrid Fiber Coaxial (HFC), a fibre-optic cable capable of carrying far more information than copper, running up to each street to a point called a node.

From the node, coaxial cable would carry the signal to a terminal at the house, and then use more coaxial to finally terminate in a modem, and then use an Ethernet cable from the modem to the computer. Phew! Usually referred to simply as Cable, this technology provides the fastest and theoretically most stable connection.

So why not put it everywhere? Mostly because it may as well be gold. Fibre optic cable is cheap! But putting it in the ground is very expensive. The cable can easily break, and not so easily be fixed. It must be well shielded and placed quite deep in the ground.

Who gets cable?

As such, Telstra and Optus concentrated on areas that were either well-populated or projected to grow, or otherwise promised a high-rate of return on investment. On the other hand, they largely avoided big rollouts in the heart of the city, or in some very large urban areas, because the disruption to services while the cable was being laid was deemed too impactful.

There is almost no use in wondering why your area doesn’t have cable – in effect, Cable is still in beta testing. Small rollouts have happened, for test communities and to serve an area deemed lucrative. But for the most part, Cable is a frustrating Shangri-La, available in some streets and not in others, some houses and not in their neighbours, some sub-divided properties and not in others. More so than ADSL, if you can’t get it, you won’t get it.

But I have Foxtel…

Yes, Foxtel pay-television also runs along this network. But if you see a Foxtel point in the wall, it’s not 100% guaranteed you will get cable. Foxtel also runs over satellite, and the point in your home looks exactly the same for satellite and cable. But even if Foxtel Cable runs into your home, you’re not guaranteed a cable internet connection.

Don’t despair. A widespread rollout of fibre optic cable is coming, albeit slowly, with the National Broadband Network. The NBN is a government initiative to provide fibre-optic cable infrastructure to 93 per cent of Australian homes and businesses. Other providers have rolled out limited cable networks of their own, and it’s worth calling iiNet (1300 106 571) to see if you’re one of the lucky ones.

Until then, you can give Optus a call on 1300 137 897 to find out if cable broadband is available in your area, or consider an ADSL connection instead. You can call Compare Broadband on 1300 106 571 if you want to know if you can access ADSL at your property.