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Virgin Media Boosts FTTP Rollout and Tops 4.87 Million Broadband Users

Friday, November 4th, 2016 (7:38 am) - Score 6,171
Virgin Media 2014 UK Logo

Cable Internet and TV provider Virgin Media (Liberty Global) has published their latest quarterly results (calendar Q3 2016), which saw growth in their broadband base improve to total 4,867,900 customers (up by +59.9K vs +42.7K added in Q2). On top of that around 2 million premises will now benefit from ultrafast FTTP broadband.

So far Virgin Media’s on-going £3bn Project Lighting network expansion, which aims to reach 17 million UK premises by 2019 (i.e. an extra 4 million premises – boosting UK coverage to around 60-65%), has already covered 250,000 premises in 2015. Since then they’ve added 70,000 during Q1 2016, then 85,000 in Q2 and now 95,000 for Q3. The progress is good.

As a result of the above effort Virgin Media’s Two-Way Homes Passed figure (i.e. homes on those sections of Virgin’s hybrid coaxial cable and fibre optic network that are technologically capable of providing two-way services, including video and Internet) has reached 13,139,100 (up from 13,057,000 in the previous quarter).

However the big news is that Virgin Media has raised their expectation for Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) coverage. Initially FTTP was only going to account for about 25% of Project Lightning (1 million+ premises), with the rest being done via their traditional EuroDOCSIS 3 based Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) network. But happily pure fibre optic lines will now account for 50%!

Virgin Media’s Revised FTTP Plan

Project Lightning, our network extension programme, is transforming our customer and RGU growth profile in the U.K. During Q3, we passed 95,000 new premises with our superior fibre-rich network, taking the YTD Project Lightning build6 to 250,000 premises. We expect to build between 450,000 and 500,000 premises during 2016 across the U.K. and Ireland, as our build partners continue to scale up to meet higher quarterly build volumes.

We have concluded that, in many cases, large scale builds deploying narrow trenching to build FTTP are more cost efficient than smaller infill opportunities. As a result, our targeted FTTP build has increased from 25% to 50% of our four million premises target, and the overall cost of the programme remains unchanged.

Project Lightning was a key contributor to our record U.K. Q3 customer additions and our best U.K. Q3 RGU growth since 2009.

Elsewhere Virgin Media also found time in the quarter to acquire Arqiva’s UK network of WiFi hotspots (here). However it’s not all good news because the launch of Virgin Mobile’s new EE based 4G plans have been delayed from October 2016, although it’s only a very short delay because the service should go live next week!

Speaking of Mobile, it’s worth pointing out that Virgin Media now has a total of 3,028,400 mobile customers on their EE based MVNO platform in the UK (up slightly from 3,021,400 last quarter) and 3,723,500 take their TV / video services.

Virgin Media Results Statement

Demand for our ultrafast speeds and enhanced video services remains strong. Over 50% of our broadband base is now taking 100+Mbps, and subscriptions to our advanced next-generation TV platforms, in the U.K. and Ireland, now represent 81% of our enhanced video base.

Meanwhile Virgin Media has previously expressed concern that their network expansion may be hampered by the new business rates hike (here) and today’s results confirm how hard it could hit. The changes are due to become effective on 1st April 2017 (no joke), although the annual amount payable is calculated by applying a percentage multiplier to the rateable value of assets and this figure has not yet been confirmed.

Never the less the operator states that the change would “result in significant increases in our network infrastructure charge” and they say that, depending upon how the multiplier and any transitional relief are set, the estimated aggregate amount of these increases will range between £25 million and £35 million during 2017 and will build to a maximum aggregate increase of up to £150 million in 2021. “We believe that the proposed increases are excessive, and we will challenge the underlying methodology and assumptions,” said Virgin Media.

Finally, the provider noted that their new SuperHub v3 cable router had now been supplied to 18% of their broadband base in the UK. However there’s still no word on when we can expect the first customer trials of the latest DOCSIS 3.1 based cable broadband technology. On the financial front Virgin Media also delivered total quarterly UK revenue of £1,122.4m (up from £1,119.0m at the same time last year).

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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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17 Responses
  1. Avatar TWKND

    Wasn’t Virgin supposed to have 4G on their mobile by now?

  2. Avatar Optimist

    When is VM going to implement IPv6?

  3. Avatar adslmax Real

    Virgin Media is misleading again. FTTP isn’t 100% FTTP, big lied. It’s actually fibre all the way to the green cabinet box and from the cabinet to their home is running on a coaxial cable indeed.

    • You’ve just described their HFC network, which makes up 50% of the new roll-out and FTTP accounts for the other 50%.

    • Avatar Optimist

      Surely what matters is the performance of the technology, not the technology itself. If it were revealed that the service is brought by teams of well-trained microscopic pigeons travelling throgh tubes at near light-speed with unerring accuracy who would be concerned other than animal rights lobbyists?

  4. Avatar Ryan

    How do you know what they’ve installed in your area? they dug up my parents street recently.

    • Avatar DTMark

      I suppose that in theory it doesn’t matter, since whether you have co-ax or FTTP the service is the same. For now. “DOCSIS over glass”, is it. The implementation is “cable over fibre” if that makes sense. Co-ax can easily deliver the 300Mbps of their top package, FTTP isn’t needed.

      However co-ax can only go to maybe 2Gbps at best (if memory serves) and only then in ideal conditions so VM have an eye on the future. And if you’re digging up roads/servicing new builds, you might as well go straight to FTTP.

    • Avatar Aaron

      @DTMark

      “And if you’re digging up roads/servicing new builds, you might as well go straight to FTTP.”

      Exactly! Especially when the biggest cost is the digging and reinstatement!

      Though the question becomes…why don’t they do 100% FTTP?

      I reckon because the the majority of that 50% that are non-FTTP are not new builds and rather are just them extending their existing network which is based on existing coax technology.

    • Avatar DTMark

      Would be my guess. The local network presumably has to be all of one or the other.

      They might do FTTP for a whole “segment” but probably not if they’re simply extending the network by a few streets in specific cases.

    • Avatar MikeW

      Yes, “DOCSIS over glass.” Which is why Matt Hancock’s statement is a little awry.

      Yes, in a long-distant future, VM will be able to make use of the physical FTTH layout in a native way. Definitely future-proofed.

      However, for the foreseeable future, it will act as though coax has been used … and indeed, there will be a short length of coax from a “media converter” into a standard cable modem.

      The experience, speed and reliability will be the same as seen by current coax users. The same upstream problems, and the same limitation of sharing with other users.

      Don’t get me wrong though… I think it is the right way for VM to be going about their upgrade.

      @Aaron
      I reckon the same: non-FTTP is used in smaller infill areas that make heavy use of existing infrastructure.

      VM’s statement that the larger areas have been found to be more efficient suggests that there’s an element of re-planning here: Some small infill areas may now get left out, and some larger, fresh, FTTH, areas will get serviced instead.

    • Avatar Data Analysis

      Great to hear them adding even more FTTH to their rollout well done Virgin.

    • Avatar Ignition

      @DTMark Coax can go way past 2Gb.

      @MikeW The RFoG is more reliable and performs better than HFC networks. Better SNR, easier node splits, fewer opportunities for ingress and microreflections, no active plant in the field to go wrong.

      They can run RFoG and XGPON on the same fibre quite happily.

  5. Avatar Matt

    I’ve just joined Virgin getting it installed next Thursday was quite surprised to find my flat could have it. Got a guy corne out yesterday and got a good price on SOLUS 50MB Broadband very happy with service

  6. Avatar Michael

    Virgin have dug up my area and there are loads of new silver boxes, does that means it’s the HFC network and not FTTP? I’m happy either way as I currently get 0.5mbps with Openreach so anything is a welcome boost! Just curious to know. 🙂

    • Avatar Scott

      The colour of the box will not tell you if its Fibre of HFC. More likely HFC you would likely know about it if it was different.

    • Avatar Matt

      To be honest even if they have installed HFC that line likely still has a good lifetime unlike FTTC. DCOIS 3.1 looks very promising

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