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Virgin Media Expand UK Network to Cambridgeshire Village, But is it FTTP?

Friday, August 8th, 2014 (12:45 pm) - Score 3,339
virgin media streetworks

Virgin Media has confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that a “small-scale development” is currently underway and in the “early stages” of expanding superfast broadband and TV (but not phone) services into the large village of Papworth Everard near the city of Cambridge, but will it be a 152Mbps coax (DOCSIS) or 300Mbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network?

The development, which follows hot on the heels of Virgin Media’s new plan to cover an additional 100,000 premises in East London (here), is in fact one of several new and non-London developments that we’ve recently queried with Virgin, but the operator has so far chosen not to say anything of substance in reply.

Papworth Everard has a population of around 3,000 and is perhaps unique among most villages because Virgin Media’s infrastructure already passes through the area, although until now locals haven’t been able to directly benefit and previously there were no plans to deploy anything. Instead locals have been getting broadband via the remote Papworth St Agnes telephone exchange and some should just be within reach of FTTC.

Never the less residents last year began a campaign to improve local connectivity and now some have noticed Virgin Media engineers are at the end of their drives digging the road up, building new grey boxes around the area and laying green pipes for cables. A query by one such individual extracted the following response.

Virgin Media’s Engineer Team

Thank you for your enquiry to cable my street.

Varrier Jones Drive is part of an active project to bring Virgin Media services to Papworth Everard.

Your street will be one of the first to receive our broadband and TV services and we hope to be in a position to schedule an order early October. Regrettably our telephone services will not be provided.

We will be carrying out a PR campaign during the next few weeks and hopefully this will help with any questions you have, however please do not hesitate in contacting us back for assistance.

Kindest regards

Alison

The lack of a phone service is interesting because, despite coming into homes via a separate cable on Virgin’s setup, most would still normally expect such a line to be provided as standard (especially as most of Virgin’s TV bundles are triple-play). Interestingly when one of the residents asked what the engineers were doing, the reply came back that a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network offering speeds of up to 300Mbps was being built and would be live within 6-8 weeks time.

ISPreview.co.uk has heard a bundle of reports about FTTP /FTTLA solutions being rolled out by Virgin in specific areas over the past few weeks and, aside from a 2010 FTTH trial in Woolhampton (here), the only firm reply we’ve ever been able to secure is that “we’re always looking at new things and trialling new approaches“. At the same time it’s curious that FTTP with a speed of 300Mbps would be used, which appears to mirror BT’s own GPON based FTTP service.

In this instance Virgin chose not to directly answer our questions about the technology being deployed (you’d expect them to say if it was DOCSIS, so this in itself is a bit odd) and instead said, “when we are closer to homes actually being serviceable we’ll have further details for you“. We pressed them on the FTTP aspect a second time but have had no reply.

At this point we’d like to stress that the fibre optic cables could just be for the capacity supply, since Virgin’s DOCSIS / FTTN is setup a bit like FTTC, but the engineers description appears to be quite specific and at odds with that of a normal hybrid fibre approach. The service might also be a new approach similar to BT’s FTTrn/dp. Either way Virgin Media aren’t merely expanding their network in urban areas.

Incidentally the work itself is being carried out by John Henry Communications.

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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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15 Responses
  1. Avatar Captain Cretin

    “John Henry”

    Wasnt he the AI computer in “The Sarah Conner Chronicles”???

    IS this part of Skynet, I think we should be told!!!!

  2. Avatar Steve Jones

    It would make sense to implement new networks using FTTP rather than coax. I suspect the costs will be similar.

    When the cable franchises were placed, the onus was (analogue) cable TV using a very simple broadcast topology. It was based on US practices (and US companies).

    Of course the complication with a completely new fibre-based network topology is that all the support systems, technology, set-top boxes and the like. Maybe this it to be a trial site for future extension of the network. VM might want to keep the details secret until they are ready to announce.

    If it is an FTTP network, that doesn’t mean there’s no phone. It’s easy enough to provide such a service over fibre with suitable terminating equipment.

  3. Avatar adslmax

    There is no way Virgin Media will do 300Mbps. No chance. At the moment it only offering 152Mbps service. So, it must be BT FTTP 300/30.

    • Avatar FTTH

      @adslmax – I would suggest that Virgin would unlikely dig roads to deliver BT Services 😉

    • Avatar James Harrison

      You do realise that on their existing copper they can in practice do 1G and should soon be able to do 10G services? DOCSIS 3+ is pretty decent, performance-wise. Upgrades should only require cabinet improvements.

      Fibre is a sensible move, though – as noted the costs will be similar or potentially even lower than coaxial copper.

  4. Avatar finaldest

    I would assume its a coax delivery system due to no phone offering however FTTP could offer phone services. It’s most likely that VM don’t feel its viable to extend the phone network.

    I suppose its possible that VM are trialling FTTP as an alternative to costly street cabs or it could be a potential trial to look at upgrading the entire network to FTTP however that is wishful thinking.

    Guess we will have to wait and see.

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      If Openreach can provide voice-over-fibre using FTTP, I’m sure VM would have no trouble doing it either. From a consumer point of view, all that happens is the phone extensions are plugged into a port on the optical network terminator.

      If would be commercially crazy for VM to provide a video/broadband service yet require customers who want a regular fixed voice line to rent one from a service provider using the BT network.

      (Of course there’s the option to use VOIP, but that doesn’t suit everybody, especially if they want to retain their existing phone extension system and equipment).

      All rather speculative of course, as we don’t know if this is a fibre trial, but it would make sense for new builds.

      http://www.openreach.co.uk/orpg/home/products/super-fastfibreaccess/fibrevoiceaccess/fibrevoiceaccess/downloads/FVA_2%2063348%2020111108.pdf

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      nb. I should add that I’m talking about voice-over-fibre in the slightly longer term. A trial might just start with video/broadband.

  5. Avatar Jim

    Will Virgin media cover the summersfield estate in Papworth Everard …i.e the new home development of Barrat / Dawid Wilson of around 300 homes and growing. If you are seeing this Virgin please do!!
    We still have super slow 0.5mb download speeds on old copper and no coverage of BT fibre network

    • Avatar Rich

      I asked cablemystreet@virginmedia.co.uk and unfortunately this is the response I got regarding the Summers Field estate.
      —-
      Thank you for your enquiry regarding Virgin Media providing digital services at your home.

      Unfortunately for us to make this area serviceable with digital services would be too expensive and would cost more than our current budget allows, so therefore cannot be considered to be upgraded by our infill activity at this time.

      As we find new ways of serving areas such as this that are outwith the existing network, we will look at your request further and may be able to include this in build programmes in future years. However at this time, we will not be able to provide cable service to this area.

      I appreciate this is not good news, but be assured our team will continue to look for other solutions that may help us achieve this in the future.

      Best regards

      The Cablemystreet Team
      Virgin Media | 1 South Gyle Crescent Lane , Edinburgh EH12 9EG

    • Avatar fastman2

      David have you had any conversatio with your developer as whether they may consider looking at helping to fund broadband , a number of developer are already looking at thi

  6. Avatar Michael

    A couple of years ago Virgin were experimenting with the RoFG version of FTTP as it had different characteristics to Digital domain FTTP. Different termination for CPE though, and with the OFCOM ruling on battery back-up units for voice services over fibre it could be that a number of tech and economic issues are still at play, making it difficult to commit to deliver “lifeline” voice services to residential customers.

  7. whoohoo! great news. if this trial works then they could scoop the pot with all the other villages where BT fear to tread. If they aren’t doing phone then it must be fibre, with free voip phone lines from any provider you like. excellent.

    • VM aren’t going to start deploying fibre to villages all over the place, Chris.

      Papworth Everard is a specific case, VM have a hubsite nearby hence a duct network through the village, it’s a trial.

      If it goes to live deployment there are a ton of places VM have ducting but don’t deliver services. These are going to be the priority over deploying FTTP at £2k+ / premises passed to rural areas.

  8. We’ve looked at rfog for a couple of projects and its very interesting. Major issue as mentioned is the cost of the battery if you want to do voice ans comply with ofcom regs. They were more expensive than the cpe and only rated for two years deployment.

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