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UPD ISP Virgin Media UK Staying Stum on Future 200Mbps Broadband Service

Tuesday, Jul 31st, 2012 (10:53 am) - Score 5,917

Cable giant Virgin Media UK has told ISPreview.co.uk that it will launch a 200Mbps or faster (i.e. 400Mbps) broadband product only “when we think the time is right” (e.g. when consumers demand it), which is despite four years ago setting itself a launch target of 2012. So when will the time be right?

The operator first coined the existence of a 200Mbps (20Mbps uploads) product in July 2008 when its then Chief Technology Officer, Howard Watson, stated, “we are setting ourselves a vision of households using 200 MB per second by 2012,” he said (here). “The current technology that we’re investing in … has inherent within it that extra capability.”

The first official trials for its “wideband” 200Mbps product, which took place in Ashford, began a year later in 2009 (here) and is understood to have required the utilisation of 4 bonded channels. The service reared its head once again during March 2010 when it was publicly demoed at the annual Ideal Home Show event in Earls Court London (here).

Shortly after that (June 2010) events took a surprising turn when the operator’s Executive Director, Jon James, announced that they “could do 400Mbps” using EuroDOCSIS3 / DOCSIS3 technology. Back then this would have required Virgin to bond all 8 channels, which would of been costly and might have impeded their other services.

Since then the operator has launched and practically completed the roll-out of its 100Mbps broadband product. It’s even conducted trials of a 1.5Gbps (150Mbps upload) service in East London using the same network as its domestic customers (here). Furthermore Virgin plans to increase the top-speed of its broadband packages up to 120Mbps after this summer, which was first hinted at during their March 2012 campaign to double their customers broadband speeds (here).

A Virgin Media Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

You’ll know we’re about to start upping our top speed to 120Mb once the summer is out of the way. You’ll also recall our successful trial of 1.5Gb (or 1500Mb) back in early 2011 which rather superseded the 200Mb trials! We continue to test various speeds to be ready for when we think the time is right to pre-empt consumer demand and maintain our lead as the UK’s fastest widely available broadband company.”

Naturally Virgin Media, which runs a hybrid network of fibre optic and coaxial cable (with some copper too), is keen to ensure that BT’s up to 80Mbps FTTC and 330Mbps capable FTTP technology doesn’t erode its bragging rights. At present the operator suggests that BT’s offerings aren’t having “any negative impact on [their] numbers” (i.e. subscribers) and it doesn’t see the top-end FTTP solution as much of a threat due to its “small scale” (low coverage and uptake).

Some of that could change in Spring 2013 when BT makes its presently niche FTTP service available over FTTC lines via FTTP-On-Demand, although we anticipate that this might well be too expensive (installation) for most ordinary home owners. On top of that the vast majority of ordinary internet users would struggle to make full use of 100Mbps, let alone 330Mbps, not to mention that many ISPs have difficulty supplying enough economically viable capacity for such speeds.

In short, Virgin Media can afford to hold off on the launch of a 200Mbps or faster service this year. Instead its 120Mbps upgrade should keep BT’s future FTTC speed boosts (e.g. vectoring) in check for another year or so and FTTP isn’t likely to pose much of an immediate threat to its wider residential market (businesses may be another matter).

On the other hand Virgin has repeatedly shown that it likes to roll-out faster solutions well in advance of their competitors, which means that a 200Mbps or faster service could show up sooner than might be strictly necessary.

UPDATE 1:07pm

Separately Virgin Media has said that it is investigating a spate of data corruption issues on its network, which seem to occur when downloading files or trying to update apps via smartphones and tablets. Some customers report that the problem surfaced after they updated their SuperHub modem/routers from firmware R30 to R36 and can only resolve the problem by using a different router and switching the SuperHub itself into modem-only mode.

This issue is currently being discuss on Virgin’s technical support forum. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that VM’s SuperHub has had problems since its launch.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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