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Virgin Media Commits to Huge UK Rollout of Ultrafast FTTP Broadband

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 (11:45 am) - Score 8,289
virgin media fibre optic laying with tom mockridge

Cable operator Virgin Media (Liberty Global) has announced that their on-going £3bn “Project Lightning” network expansion will work to ensure that “at least a quarter” of the additional 4 million UK premises being reached by 2020 2019 are to be connected using ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology.

Project Lightning, which was first announced in February 2015 (here), will ultimately expand Virgin Media’s network to put it within reach of 17 million premises across the United Kingdom; equating to around 60-65% coverage of all homes and businesses (up from c.45% last year). Interestingly the completion year has also been moved forward to 2019 from 2020.

However until now it was expected that the vast majority of this would involve the operators existing Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) infrastructure, which uses a mix of fibre optic cables and then copper coax lines in order to reach inside homes using EuroDOCSIS 3 technology (this will be upgraded to DOCSIS 3.1 in the near future).

The original announcement also hinted that some of the expansion would involve the use of Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology, which are Gigabit capable pure fibre optic lines (no copper coax) and this then gets converted into DOCSIS signals for end-users (the in-home environment) via an approach known as Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG). But until now we didn’t know how much of their roll-out would actually involve this method.

The move means that over 1 million of the extra premises will be able to connect to Virgin Media’s network via FTTP technology, which is about as close to future proof as you can currently get. This would also mean that Virgin “becomes the UK’s largest wholly fibre broadband network” and by “fibre” they actually mean pure fibre optic, for a change (BT has about 200,000+ premises passed with FTTP and Hyperoptic are believed to be at a similar level).

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“Our £3bn investment to bring ultrafast connectivity to more parts of the UK is not just about better broadband, it’s about future-proofing the country’s network infrastructure with the best and most modern technology.

While some companies talk a good game, Virgin Media is putting its money where its mouth is and laying fibre to the premise alongside our superior HFC network – delivering the fastest widely available broadband speeds.

In just over one year we’ve laid enough new cable to stretch all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats, reaching a quarter of a million more homes and businesses – and there’s much more to come.”

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

“Backing firms that grow and create jobs is a key part of our plan to boost productivity and deliver economic security for working people. It’s fantastic to be at Virgin Media today to hear about their plans to create 500 new hig‎hly skilled jobs this year, and expand their ultrafast Internet service to 4 million new homes and businesses.”

Regular readers will no doubt note that Virgin Media has already started to roll out FTTP in Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire (example), with work also expected to start soon in West Yorkshire, Devon and East Sussex. During 2016 the operator expects to connect 500,000 new premises (mix of HFC and FTTP) and they will create a further 500 jobs in the UK.

The operator also claims that their roll-out, which is being supported by the Government’s UK Guarantees Scheme (this provides a sovereign-backed guarantee to help big projects access finance), could end up benefiting the UK economy by an estimated £8 billion (not least by creating 6,000 new jobs, including 1,000 new apprentices).

The announcement could also be seen as a response, or perhaps a challenge, to BT’s recent pledge to “significantly” boost their own roll-out of FTTP broadband connections (here and here). Crucially BT has yet to clarify precisely how much of their future roll-out will involve FTTP, with the bulk still expected to be deployed using 300-500Mbps G.fast technology.

At present Virgin Media’s HFC network can deliver speeds of 200-300Mbps (these remain the same over their FTTP / RFoG lines so as to deliver a simple service proposition), although top speeds could eventually reach 1000Mbps once DOCSIS 3.1 is introduced. Similarly BT’s FTTP can currently do 330Mbps and that’s also the starting point for G.fast, although BT are testing a 1000Mbps FTTP upgrade (currently only aimed at business connections).

Your turn, BT.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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25 Responses
  1. Someone pass the popcorn, please.

    • /me pops some sweet popcorn in the Microwave.

    • Salt or cinnamon please. A mixture of both ideally.

    • Steve Jones

      I’m wondering if this will spur OR to provide more FTTP as I suspect they will want to be able to claim they have more full fibre than any other provider.

      We’ve seen the trials of the connector-based technology in Swindon, and that was done rather fast. Of course it’s only possible where the infrastructure allows it to be done (relatively) cheaply, but I do suspect that there’s some strategic thinking going on (and there are hints that Sky has mended some bridges with OR – they won’t put capital in of course, but maybe we might see some actual support – as a customer – of OR).

      In any event, I think we are going to hear some more. Note that this won’t help rural areas of course.

    • themanstan

      oh to be a fly on the wall in the BT public affairs office…

      This will force BTs hand somewhat!

    • FibreFred

      Do you really think it will?

      I doubt it will change their plans much if any really. I mean think about it, we all know DOCSIS can outspeed G.Fast anyway, ok G.Fast will see further advances I’m sure but so will DOCSIS.

      With that in mind does this actually change anything? I know of the limitations of shared cable and the limitations of G.Fast but I just don’t see this announcement things really. BT know that in terms of top speed they are currently outgunned anyway so….

  2. MikeW

    At what point in the network does RFoG get converted back to RF? Is there a separate box in the home, which feeds coax into a standard VM hub/router? Or does it use a different kind of hub?

  3. FibreFred

    Good news! Serious competition not pie in the sky or all talktalk

  4. karl

    ““at least a quarter” of the additional 4 million UK premises being reached by 2020 2019 are to be connected using ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP)”

    Nice 1+ Million new FTTP connections.

    “Interestingly the completion year has also been moved forward to 2019 from 2020….”
    “(BT has about 200,000+ premises passed with FTTP… ”

    That will be 5x more FTTP than BT have managed in 4 years.

    “creating 6,000 new jobs, including 1,000 new apprentices”

    Great to see real large creation of new jobs rather than a few hundred at best here and there.

    “Your turn, BT….”

    Looks like they are going to have to hurry up a bit with their trialing of G.fast, FTTH trials and this and that which has been going on for some time. Hopefully real competition gives them a boot up the backside, handfuls of tax payers cash and actual determination to supply decent speed certainly has not been enough of a motivator thus far.

    • GNewton

      “Hopefully real competition gives them a boot up the backside”

      Not very likely. Just because VM plans to install a Million or so FTTP doesn’t mean BT will do the same. BT is too slow, too incompetent, and without more taxpayer’s money it won’t do much of anything. It’s more like a dinosaur on the road to extinction because of all these new network providers.

    • FibreFred

      Oh god just what we need tag trolling.

      If anything fttp will happen in the UK it will be bt and vm, this is good news jog on

    • karl

      Ah trolling because i highlighted facts from a news item. Idiot logic at its finest.

    • TheFacts

      @Karl – Carpetburn or Deduction…

      Personal abuse will see your posts deleted.

    • karl

      The only posts that need deleting are from people that initiate the name calling.

  5. Keith

    I imagine BT are sitting around discussing how much more money they will need to beg the government for to get one of their next pie in the sky copper cable schemes off the ground.

    • GNewton

      Chances are people are now waking up to this BDUK farce and won’t give any more taxpayer’s money to BT who had never any need for it in the first place.

    • TheFacts

      BDUL is not a farce for the millions who have benefited and not had to wait 10 years.

    • GNewton

      @TheFacts: What is BDUL? Never heard about it.

      As regards these gap-funding projects involving throwing taxpayer’s money away to mostly a single private commercial company that had never any need for it: This money could have been spend more wisely on more urgent projects, like e.g. a better funded NHS. Your statement that it would have taken 10 years to reach areas beyond BT’s footprint has no foundation.

    • karl

      “BDUL is not a farce for the millions who have benefited and not had to wait 10 years.”

      Indeed you are quite correct the installations of FTTC started back in July 2009 first with trials and then commercial rollout in very early 2010. It is now 2016 and the BDUK is still not fully finished. So i make that 6 years some have been waiting and another bunch will be waiting for ever because BT have never planned or stated FTTC would have 100% coverage.

      So farce yes or no???????

      Well if you think waiting what is likely to be until 2019 (IE nine years) for the BDUK rollouts to be complete and some people having to fund BT but seeing nothing for the taxes they pay ever is not a farce then no its not. Of course to reach a “not a farce” opinion based on those facts may mean you need serious psychological therapy though.

    • GNewton

      @karl: I know of cases where the BDUK has actually prevented other network providers from building alternative networks. Most people have been brainwashed into the strange believe that only BT can provide broadband. VDSL is the wrong technology for rural areas and does not provide good value for money.

      TheFacts is mistaken with his statement that it would 10 years without BDUK monies given to BT to have decent broadband. Virgin Media is one of the bigger companies which is extending its access network despite the BDUK, and this without taxpayer’s money.

    • karl

      Confusing he thinks without the BDUK people would be waiting 10 years. With the BDUK not due to be complete until 2018/19 and Openreaches “fibre” rollout that started in 2010 they will have been waiting 8-9 years anyway.

      Maybe he thinks handing over millions to BT is a good use of government funds to make sure those people get service 12 months sooner than they would without the BDUK. Personally id say there are far better and more needed things millions could be spent on rather than getting broadband to a tiny minority a few months quicker.

  6. Darren

    On the face of it this is good news. Will be interesting how many actually end up with FTTP though and what the packages will be like… 1000/12 Mbps with traffic management is no good.

    • karl

      12Mb is not the upload rate on any of their higher tiers with current DOCSIS3 so i doubt it will be with 3.1 or FTTP.

  7. Am I correct in thinking that the fibre that will be used now costs significantly less than the coax that Virgin buys form the Chinese via BT. I was also told recently that is costs 30% less to manufacture than the copper linking homes to BT cabinets or G-Fast boxes, hence BT’s willingness to install Fibre to the Premises on new build estates.

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