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Huge Virgin Media UK Cable Broadband Expansion Begins in Manchester

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 (7:53 am) - Score 4,418

Some 150,000 homes and businesses in the city of Manchester (England) will be the first to benefit from Virgin Media’s new £3bn scheme (Project Lightning) to expand the reach of their 152Mbps capable cable broadband, TV and phone network to around 60% of the United Kingdom by 2020 (currently 44%).

The new project was first announced in February 2015 (here) and since then we’ve seen a lot of planning for street works and other prepatory work being done, although Manchester will be the first city to officially benefit from this with an investment of £75m going into the area. The first phase begins this week with a completion goal of 20,000 premises. Once all this work is complete Virgin will have covered 450,000 premises in the city.

The operator also expects to connect more premises in “neighbouring postal towns” in the near future, which will be “prioritised according to demand from consumers and businesses“. Virgin’s focus will be on expanding network coverage outwards from their existing base, thus if you live close to their network but aren’t yet covered then now might be a good time to drum up some local support.

At present Virgin Media’s network is capable of reaching around 13 million premises (figures vary) and once completed the new Project Lightning will have expanded this to another 4 million (total of 17 million), which compares with almost 23 million covered by BT’s deployment of slower ‘up to’ 80Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology.

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

Our message is simple: help us to cable your street. If you want to switch to broadband speeds twice as fast as you can get today, simply register with Virgin Media to ‘cablemystreet’.”

Ed Vaizey, Digital Economy Minister, said:

This is wonderful news for Manchester residents and businesses. We are in the midst of a remarkable transformation of the UK’s digital landscape, and Virgin Media’s £3bn investment will play an important role in ensuring our cities are fully equipped to meet the challenges of the digital age in which we live.”

Overall a total of 6,000 direct new jobs, including 1,000 new apprenticeships, are anticipated to be created over the entire project’s five year period and it’s been suggested that the development could also add an extra £8 billion of value to the UK economy and consumers.

Also, just in case you were wondering why Ed Vaizey is commenting on an otherwise private project, the effort is being supported by the Government’s UK Guarantees Scheme that exists to help infrastructure projects raise debt finance (Guarantees for up to £40 billion in aggregate can be offered). BT’s forthcoming G.fast deployment in 2016/17 way also benefit from this.

Meanwhile some of the next areas of benefit are also likely to include poorly served parts of both London and Birmingham, where BT has been painfully slow to upgrade local broadband speeds. A number of areas will also gain fibre optic FTTP technology, although Virgin Media has yet to clarify this part of their plan.

Lately we’ve also observed Virgin Media testing broadband speeds of up to 300Mbps on their EuroDOCSIS based cable network and a new “double speed” boost is anticipated to surface sometime this year (here), although officially the operator has yet to confirm anything.

Going forwards there are also plans to test the new DOCSIS3.1 cable technology, which promises even faster speeds than the 300Mbps proposed above, but that won’t show up commercially for another couple of years (the first customer trials could begin around the end of this year).

At the same time it’s worth remembering that Virgin Media’s parent, Liberty Global, and Vodafone have confirmed that they’re holding talks about a possible merger or asset swap deal (here). But it’s too early to say what impact this might have on their plans for the UK, even though Voda would benefit from Virgin’s cable infrastructure and Virgin would benefit from Voda’s mobile.

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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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