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Virgin Media UK Lab Testing 10Gbps DOCSIS 3.1 Broadband Upgrade

Monday, July 21st, 2014 (1:05 am) - Score 14,000
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Cable operator Virgin Media has confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that they’re currently lab testing the next generation DOCSIS 3.1 cable network standard, which could one day be used to deliver broadband download speeds of up to 10Gbps (Gigabits per second) and uploads of 1Gbps+ over their predominantly urban network.

The operators current cable platform is a hybrid Fibre-to-the-Local/Node (FTTN) style network, which delivers the final connection into homes via a short run of copper or high-grade coaxial cable and is predominantly based off a EuroDOCSIS variant of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS3).

At present the best Virgin Media’s cable network can put out is a service with download speeds of 152Mbps (12Mbps uploads), although there is room to squeeze a little more out of that. A future upgrade to 200Mbps via the existing network is certainly plausible and has been officially talked about for several years (demand dependent).

Meanwhile BT’s rival up to 80Mbps FTTC service isn’t likely to catch-up anytime soon, at least not without G.fast and or FTTdp and those are still a few years away. However Virgin Media’s focus is still predominantly in urban areas and these are also the locations where several new rivals, such as CityFibre (with Sky Broadband and TalkTalk) and Hyperoptic, are starting to make headway via 1000Mbps true fibre optic (FTTH/P) connections.

But cable operators haven’t been standing still and CableLabs has been working on the new DOCSIS 3.1 specification for several years, which was finalised at the end of last year and promises to boost performance by utilising technologies such as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and quadrupling the amount of radio spectrum (up to 200MHz).

Back in 2012 we talked a lot about DOCSIS 3.1 (here) and at the time Virgin Media, which said they “could theoretically integrate this into our existing network” (apparently this would also be quite straightforward), were only examining the new standard as an exercise and indeed the hardware simply wasn’t available for proper testing.

The good news is that Virgin Media do now have beta hardware in their labs for proper testing, although the cable operator wouldn’t be drawn on our requests for information about a possible field trial. Meanwhile Liberty Global (Virgin Media’s parent) are one of the standards strongest supporters and have made no secret of their desire to see a commercial roll-out by the end of 2016, although this timescale may differ for their UK operations (note: final DOCSIS3.1 hardware is expected by late 2014/early 2015).

Naturally there will be some cost attached to such an upgrade, although DOCSIS3.1 is similar enough to 3.0 that the level of backwards compatibility in other areas means the upgrade should be well within Virgin Media’s capability (i.e. it won’t break the bank). The advantage of not having to lay new cable is also a big bonus.

But as usual home customers shouldn’t expect the top speed of 10Gbps, which will most likely need to be split down and shared in order to keep costs under control, so it’s probably more realistic to expect a continuation of their gradual speed boosts rather than a sudden surge into Gigabit territory.

Some may suggest that this could leave Virgin vulnerable to superior FTTH/P providers, which can already do Gigabit speeds for home users in a growing number of cities, although this would only be true in the marketing sense because right now you don’t really need 100Mbps, let alone 1Gbps or 10Gbps, though it’s nice to have if you can get it (bragging rights). In any case, without BT’s influence (they’re only doing small bits of FTTH/P), it will take years for rival FTTH/P ISPs to mature into a real threat and by then DOCSIS4 could have arrived.

However no company can ever afford to take their eye off the competition and indeed in the longer-term we could see Virgin Media adopting FTTH/P themselves, just as a few other cable operators around the world have already done. But right now there’s no prospect of that on the horizon, at least not to any significant scale.

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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36 Responses
  1. Raindrops

    This will all be rubbish to the BT drones, yet Vectoring and similar from BT which has been promised for over a year is obviously still a “its coming soon” solution in their fantasies.

    Awaits the obvious people and posts basically rubbishing this.

    • markg

      Yeah bt is only going to cost the public £1.2 billion for fttc!and with the added bonus of being forced to pay for unneeded line rental.

  2. FTTH

    Looks like Virgin Media Keep their crown of Fastest Broadband Provider.

    Their Technology was close to FTTC already, Their copper is also much higher quality and designed for High Frequency. So without a cable replacement from BT VM will win any broadband battle, always.

  3. simon

    I have 152Mbps and do occasional backups to another property (peer to peer over a von) and the upstream is the primary constraint, it can take WEEKS to back some things up.

    That said 152Mbps is not that fast when downloading games from steam, a 44GB download put me off getting assassins creed black flag for example.

    Realistically gigabit to the provider is necessary today and 10Gbps in the home should be more common, both are currently ridiculously priced. When I moved house I chose somewhere I could get BT FTTP on demand (a trial zone) only to find it impossible to actually order.

    I have friends still stuck on 76Mbps and I don’t know how people can cope with such slow speeds let alone ADSL ones which – at least to me feel like my 1200bps modem did a while ago.

    This country really is stuck in the past, a cheap multimode fibre to each house would fix things and they could use the old cables as draw strings, then sell them as scrap for a profit.

    • Andy

      Try being stuck with a 3.5mb ADSL connection and having no option to purchase anything else. I’d give my right ball for 152mb!!

    • David

      38 minutes to download 44GB, you mad, some people i know have 1-2 mb broadband! and that can take 48 hours-96 to download.

  4. Bob2002

    > At the same time Virgin Media also has to leave room for their TV service …

    Don’t know much about cable providers but I was told by a Telewest(West Midlands) employee that they had laid two cables to all premises – so I assume they could use one for broadband and the other for other services.

  5. FTTH

    I have 2Mb at my home (DSL), It is essentially useless for upstream. I had an ISDN line in 2000, it feels pretty similar.

    VM could easily pull in fibres, they had the vision to put ducts in, I am sure they will when they need to.

    1Gb should be the target customer connection.

    The only area I would disagree is the Multimode fibre (it is my pet hate). Multimode is Old technology, designed for LED’s before Lasers were cost effective. Cable is more expensive per M (at minium x2 the price) and it is crap (<500m for the speeds you want). An handful of operators use it…. They shouldn't.

  6. adslmax

    I don’t believe this until they release it! I don’t think Virgin Media will offering 1Gbps to home customers but maybe will bring 200/20 by end of 2016. As for BT FTTC – it’s probably staying at 76/19 until 2018.

    • Did the Wales and Marches manager whose email you deleted in your opinion lie to you when he mentioned 120Mb/30Mb?

      How rude of him.

      Meh Openreach should be able to push to a shade under 100Mb down with profile 17a. Any more than that needs pair bonding realistically.

  7. Another member of the Liberty Global family is selling 250Mb/20Mb on DOCSIS 3, with another European cable company selling 500Mb/50Mb on that same DOCSIS 3.

    It’s doable.

  8. FibreFred

    Good to see Virgin trialling 10Gbps just like BT did two years back, even if the need for it is years away its good to test it out.

    And also good to see Virgin taking the sensible approach of utilising their existing cabling plant to the max before having to move to pure FTTH.

  9. MrWhite

    It would be good if Virgin would increase their upload speeds, especially with more people now backing up to the cloud.

    Regardless, I think we’ll always be in a position where the speeds are “too slow”. The ‘entertainment’ industry can easily create bigger films/games/stuff that is large and “need” large download speeds.

  10. FTTH

    @FibreFred… Lol. Your the best.
    VM are talking about their standard physical infrastructure 🙂

    BT need to put their Alcatel equipment in your front garden before they get close.
    Or do you mean the XGPON solution that will require FTTP (100% new fibre drops)?

    Technically, BT can’t go toe to toe on this one. VM have not even mentioned that they have the Twisted Pair BT have anyway, if it was any good they would use that. But it is not. so they don’t.

    • FibreFred

      “VM are talking about their standard physical infrastructure :)”

      Totally agree, they are taking the existing cables in the ground as far as possible before replacing.

      Yes I’m referring to XGPON. I’m not saying BT FTTC can do 10Gbps, I’m saying BT and Virgin have both tested 10Gbps, both telco’s are taking their existing cabling plant to the max before replacing with FTTH.

      BT’s cabling plant runs out technically much much sooner than Virgin’s does… nothing contentious there its a well known fact.

    • FTTH

      @Fibrefred Understood.

      But to say BT trialled 10G 2 years ago is a touch misleading, it is a whole new deployment, all new build. The Street cabs can be converted to GPON cabs, but all new access network.

      Virgin can turn this on with the existing network.

      That’s all I were saying.

      BT turned down the cul-de-sac a few years ago, they reach the end of it in 4-5.

    • FibreFred

      Hmmm sort of, they shouldn’t need to do anything with the cabs, it just needs to reflect their standard FTTP deployment with different hardware on each end, still lots of work though in comparison to what Virgin needs to do, though I expect Virgin will have to do quite a bit to get their network 10G ready.

      FTTC is a cul-de-sac totally agree but the network that feeds it can be used for the next phase, whenever that may come of course!

    • Nowhere near as much work as BT have to do to get their network 152Mb ready – the speed the Virgin Media network is delivering right now.

      Of course that’s what happens when, every 4 years, you invest as much per home passed in upgrading your network’s ability to carry high speed broadband as BT have with their ‘massive’ investment in FTTC, which according to their literature is a one-off investment tailing off back into the <£50 million per year range once the BDUK projects are done.

      Or if you prefer a bit less than 9 footie games worth, given that seems to be the currency within BT Group right now.

      The BTCoin – the price per game of footie. I like that. FTTP to a 1000-home estate ready with ducts, 1/6th of a BTCoin. A single FTTC delivery, 1/180th of a BTCoin.

    • FYI – what VM are doing with their network is pushing fibre closer to customers.

      Basically they are going from FTTNeighbourhood to FTTC to FTTLA. If you prefer FTTN to FTTC to FTTRN.

      Except they do it on a constant basis rather than doing it once then deciding job is done for as long as possible, sitting on their hands and telling people that’s all that’s needed.

      In the time that BT have been deploying the FTTC network commercially Virgin have more than tripled their downstream speeds on their highest tier and increased upstream speeds by a factor of 8.

      They aren’t sweating the existing network, they’re gradually overbuilding it. To get the higher speeds they have no choice but to.

      Comparing what Virgin are doing to what BT have been doing really is beyond comedy.

      Had Virgin left their network without any upgrades in terms of new lasers, cabinets/nodes, access network rebuilds for higher bandwidths, CMTS, line cards, hubsites, DWDM/CWDM, etc, I’d agree. They haven’t.

      About the only thing in some areas that’s ‘original’ is the last drop, the equivalent of the bit between DP and customer. Everything else has had fibre overlay with all active and passive hardware replaced.

      BT premises that they actually paid for all themselves you can say that for? Less than 100,000 out of over 28 million homes passed.

      Yay.

    • Raindrops

      Please ignitionnet do not confuse fragile minds with history and financial data.

    • FibreFred

      @Ignitionnet

      But what you’ve just described backs up what I’ve said. Virgin are keeping and re-using their existing cabling plant as long as possible, yes the last drop.

      Virgin are building out fibre closer to the customer as are BT, I didn’t say anything about how that was funded.

    • I must’ve missed the part where, once FTTC is built, people get fibre built closer to their properties.

      Doesn’t seem on the road map for a while.

      Virgin do it whenever they do a category C network resegmentation. BT do it once and describe it as a massive investment.

      To be fair to them the CapEx for the whole lot was between 200 and 250 BTCoins.

    • Raindrops

      LOL i love the new BT Coins terminology LOL

  11. GNewton

    “just like BT did two years back” Any sources or links for this?

    • FibreFred

      Source is this very site, feel free to search/Google it

    • Ignitionnet

      BT’s research and trials are state of the art, cutting edge.

      Sadly what they actually sell to most punters is whatever is expedient.

      BT trialed FTTP a decade ago and VDSL 2 8-ish years ago. Trials are irrelevant. BT can trial fibre to the anus for all it matters. Trials are not products.

    • FibreFred

      Agreed, and I do not expect 10G to become a BT product for home for many years, but some trials do become products the two you have mentioned for starters

    • Raindrops

      It is just a shame BT are always playing catch up with their products and the speeds they deliver.
      First with ADSL2/2+ (about 2-4 years late to the party with that)
      then FTTC (still slower than what Virgin have)
      The next catch up will be to with this and future mobile products.

      Lets face it BT do not innovate they play the oh god others are suddenly better than us we better dribble invest some more money. Just this time and probably the next time around they have managed to scam the tax payer for it. Others in the meantime race ahead and do things with their own hard earned.

      Good luck to BT playing catch up to the next lot of mobile services,, Virgins upgrades and possibly the Sky/Cityfibre collaboration, all probably likely in around 5 years. Its ok though us tax paying mugs will help BT out AGAIN, probably with another stop gap measure.

    • GNewton

      There was indeed a BT trial in ~Cornwal about 2 years ago, see e.g. http://www.uswitch.com/broadband/news/2012/11/bt_launches_10gb_broadband_trial_in_cornwall/

      However, this is totally irrelevant to the real-world BT scenario, because there is no fibre broadband available from that company for most parts of the UK, not even after acting as a wannabe beggar for taxpayer’s money. And that trial was based on a XGPON, not a hybrid fibre-copper line.

    • FibreFred

      It was a 10G Trial GNewton

      End of story, sorry that doesn’t sit well with you

    • Raindrops

      He has a point though, trialling something when 90% of the country does not even have the basic cable which is required in place let alone the other equipment does seem rather pointless.

      Virgins product is almost ready to go compared to what a FTTC to XGPON upgrade will need. I personally although i think BT are a clueless entity hope they do bring out developments like you mention sooner rather than later. The more products, more options and more competition the better for us customers. I am not holding my breath though considering the track record of them always playing catch up.

    • FibreFred

      No he doesn’t have a point

      I said

      “Good to see Virgin trialling 10Gbps just like BT did two years back, even if the need for it is years away its good to test it out.”

      And that’s it.. nothing about what it was running on. lol, like FTTC can do 10Gbps… why even bring that up?

      I said they trialled it, they did, move on. I know the trolls are not happy but that’s just how it is.

      It isn’t a pointless trial at all, when they trialled FTTC 99% of the country couldn’t use it without massive investment.

      So Virgin’s 10G product is almost ready to go? hahahah ok, another classic of yours to remember.

    • Raindrops

      “So Virgin’s 10G product is almost ready to go? hahahah ok, another classic of yours to remember.”

      Firstly my exact quote was…
      “Virgins product is almost ready to go compared to what a FTTC to XGPON”
      That is true. Both FTTH and Ignitionnet have also tried to tell you the virgin trial to become a real product needs nowhere near the amount of work or upgrades BT would need to do for XGPON. Not hard to follow for anyone except you.

  12. GNewton

    “End of story, sorry that doesn’t sit well with you”

    This is all irrelevant, I was just stating facts, especially since no one else provided a source for BTs 10G trials.

    There is no need for forum trolls to defend BT, or to post their VDSL praise on nearly every forum thread, BT doesn’t pay them for it. Users have smartened up.

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