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Virgin Media Scales Back North Swindon Rollout Due to Rival Network

Saturday, December 12th, 2015 (7:56 am) - Score 1,250
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Reports claim that Virgin Media has scaled back its urban superfast broadband (EuroDOCSIS3 cable) roll-out plans for North Swindon (Wiltshire, England) because of the local authority’s £1.9m contract with UKB Networks, which is deploying a fixed wireless service in the area.

The deal has been repeatedly criticised by local politicians who wanted to see a fixed line “fibre broadband” service, although the council has long claimed that neither BT nor Virgin Media were seriously interested in bidding for the related Broadband Delivery UK contract (here) and that left UKB Network’s fixed wireless solution as the only option.

The aim of the contract is to benefit 20,000 or so poorly served premises in North Swindon, many of which will be in more rural parts. However some wireless infrastructure will cover North Swindon’s urban areas and one difficulty with such a setup is that it can be very challenging to avoid overlaps with existing “superfast” networks.

Crucially the contract for North Swindon was agreed at the very start of the year (here), which is around the exact same time that Virgin Media unveiled their new Project Lightning expansion plan to cover an additional 4 million UK premises (here). As such Virgin probably didn’t return to discuss a possible expansion in the area until after the UKB Networks deal was done.

The Swindon Advertiser claims that recent negotiations between the local authority and Virgin Media, which was looking to expand across some of the same area, had reached an “advanced” stage. However the operator was reluctant to expand into the same areas as UKB Networks and so scaled back its plans to look at a smaller area around Taw Hill.

The news has not gone down well with outspoken local MP Justin Tomlinson, who has often voiced his opposition to the deal.

Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson:

We have had productive talks with Virgin who have already started rolling out in some parts of the northern sector but at this stage they are unlikely to progress further as they are unhappy as the council wants to move forward with 4G.

Residents collectively know this scheme is doomed to fail and therefore are disappointed that Virgin has hesitated. Our focus is now on working with BT to deliver the much needed upgrade to the Haydon Exchange.”

At this point it’s worth remembering that, at the time of the original contract negotiations, neither BT nor Virgin Media were willing to bid. The local leadership also preferred a deal with one or both of the two fixed line providers, but you can’t force commercial businesses to meet the goals.

As it stands a legally-binding contract now exists with UKB Networks and there’s a very strong likelihood that the operator will be able to deliver a perfectly acceptable service, although there’s also a chance that it might not be perfect for everybody. Mind you it’s not as if BT or Virgin Media’s network works perfectly for every home either.

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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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7 Responses
  1. Avatar MikeW


    Why would VM need to negotiate with the council if project lightning is a commercial project?

    Obviously the presence of a 4G operator intent on competing with fixed broadband needs to be taken account of – and likely reduces viability of anything VM would do – but “taking account of” doesn’t need negotiation with the council.

    • I suspect it’s just prudence / planning, trying to reduce the risk to the network by establishing coverage of the new ‘wireless’ network and seeing if they can mitigate its impact on their network. It won’t be discussions in terms of a bid.

    • Avatar Ignition

      Same reason they negotiated with Leeds City Council. When doing major infrastructure projects involving that level of potential disruption it’s extremely wise to smooth the flow with the local authority.

      It’s either negotiate with the council and come to some understanding or have them handle each and every works request in isolation.

      No obligation to do so but it makes a huge amount of sense, especially given that some of these works will need permits due to the nature of the roads.

      Openreach ended up having to discuss FTTC deployments with some local authorities. Richmond upon Thames comes to mind where Openreach sent in >70 planning applications for conservation areas and ended up having nearly all of them rejected. This was a far less extreme piece of work than a cable build.

      Forward planning is a smart thing to do.

  2. While an ISP might not need approval to provide a telecoms service to a particular area, it certainly does require extensive negotiations with the local Highways Authority, usually the local unitary or County Council for licenses to dig blooming great holes everywhere, and I believe separate approvals may be necessary for routing and installation of ducting, not to mention positioning of the metal boxes with the fibre to copper gear and cable termination.

  3. Avatar MrWhite

    North Swindon must be very frustrated at the moment. The Haydon exchange is only about 8 years old. BT filled it with old equipment even when the rest of the country was getting “21CN” and FTTC was on its way. I think the MP is right, 4G is not what people want and VM would have given a viable alternative.

  4. Avatar finaldest

    I have been house hunting in Swindon as I am moving to the area and have turned down many good properties due to the poor BB connectivity.
    This is why in the end I decided to ignore all the new builds and went for a house that had VM and FTTC available.

    I just cannot believe that developers completely ignored the provision of decent BB as there are many flats/houses that are not even finished yet.
    BB is one of the most important things to look for when house hunting now and I wount consider any propery that does not have at least FTTC.

    BT and VM service availability/address checkers are a godsend when house hunting.

  5. Avatar Doctor X

    March 29th 2016 – and still this situation is diabolical.
    I am going to leave North Swindon soon for this very reason, the internet here is worse than dial up, in redhouse it is impossible to use it for anything other than basic browsing. No online gaming, no netflix, and if you need three or more people online at the same time, go stand outside and use 4g on your phone. Because you cannot get signal for that inside, either.

    I have been to places in Africa with better service than Swindon. Appalling…

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