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Virgin Media Begins Deployment of VoIP Phone Alongside Broadband

Friday, January 27th, 2017 (8:54 am) - Score 35,172

Cable operator Virgin Media has confirmed to ISPreview.co.uk that they’ve just begun a limited deployment of Voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology to replace their old phone (line rental) service, but it’s currently only being sold in areas where the operator has deployed Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology.

The operator’s latest SuperHub 3 router is already designed so that it can act as a VoIP based telephone gateway and includes two standard RJ11 telephone ports on the back, but until now such a feature has not been usable unless you were part of a very small trial. Some issues with the firmware have delayed getting this feature out to the wider customer base, although those problems appear to have now been resolved.

As a result the process of delivering VoIP to Virgin Media’s broadband customers is now finally beginning, although initially it’s only being done at a “relatively small scale” and is understandably focused upon areas where the operator has been rolling out their new pure fibre optic (FTTP) infrastructure. In those areas it makes more sense to deliver the phone service over the same fibre than to install a separate PSTN style line to homes.

Under the current plan Virgin Media’s £3bn Project Lightning expansion will add an additional 4 million premises to their network by 2019 (boosting coverage to around 60-65% of the UK). Roughly 2 million of the new premises will be reached via FTTP, which adapts to DOCSIS signals (the communication standard for cable operators) in the home environment via an approach known as Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG).

A Spokesperson for Virgin Media told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We are making the most of our network investment to enable people to access voice over fibre in certain Project Lightning areas. This means new Lightning FTTP customers will be able benefit from broadband, TV and phone services in one package, and begins a programme of future-proofing our landline service.”

A number of early FTTP subscribers on Virgin Media’s network have already received the new VoIP service and they’ve provided us with some feedback. Related customers were informed about the phone service being delivered via broadband during the order process, which interestingly included a check-box to accept that you have the means to make calls in an emergency when the service is down.

Unlike copper lines, which can carry electricity for an analogue phone to work, a fibre optic service would go dead during a power cut unless your local router also has its own backup battery. Mind you protracted power cuts, which may run down the operator’s own battery backup, can be a problem regardless of the line type.

The move also raises a question about whether or not customers will eventually see cheaper packages now that the VoIP approach is being adopted. However we suspect that Virgin Media will initially maintain their existing approach, where there’s still a difference of around £8 (based on standard pricing) between their standalone broadband packages and their broadband + phone bundles.

Otherwise the next challenge will be to test and ensure that the same VoIP approach is able to work properly over their more traditional hybrid fibre and coax (EuroDOCSIS) lines. Virgin Media has promised to keep us informed about their progress on this front. Thanks to one of our readers (Daniel) for the early spot.

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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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12 Responses
  1. ISPUser says:

    Can the Line Rental Saver option be used here, do you know?

    Also typo third paragraph up from bottom, third line. You’ve got batter not battery.

  2. Chris P says:

    Does that work for calling emergency services during a power failure (to the house/modem/area)?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Assuming they’re setup like other FTTP providers, then VM’s network should have battery backup that will last for a few hours in the event of a wide area power cut. However a VoIP phone still won’t work unless you’re actually able to power your router / modem, such as via a UPS. This assumes that the power cut has hit both your house and Virgin Media’s local infrastructure.

    2. Steve Jones says:

      Originally VOIP services were explicitly omitted from the requirements of fixed line operators with regard to access to emergency services as a matter of policy. However, this has since changed for some types of VOIP operations (especially those who offer VOIP from a fixed location). PATS operators (which essentially means those offering voice services accessible using normal international numbering systems) do have requirements to provide access to emergency services including various provisions for providing location information to the limits of what is practicable.

      However, the requirement for fixed location services to be able to operate during a power cut is not included. What Ofcom appear to have settled for is a system requiring service operators to warn customers (and even supply stickers for equipment). I know that on BT’s FTTP service where fibre voice access (FVA) is used, the PSTN service will continue to run for a short time as the ONT has a smaller backup battery. That sounds like a bit if a compromise required for rules intended to cover copper PSTN networks, and I’ve no idea if other FTTP services offering voice have the same backup included. In any event, it sounds like a long term maintenance issue as batteries fail over time.

      It appears if the service is offered by VOIP, then that requirement to maintain access during a power cut no longer applies provided that the customer is warned. Perhaps with the ubiquity of mobile phones, this is considered much less critical (even if mobile coverage isn’t completely universal).

      It should also be noted that some SPs seem to be considering moving phone services to VOIP via their hubs. It makes particular sense for those using FTTC as it means they no longer require a presence at the local exchange (unless it happened to be one of the ones where the fibre terminates – most aren’t).


  3. ISPUser says:

    They specifically ask you to confirm that you have a mobile phone to make emergency calls.

    If you meet certain medical needs criteria, they say there is an option to provide a way to make calls in the event of a power failure. I wonder whether that is battery backup in the house for the router.

  4. AndyC says:

    Would the problems they are having with the ping times on the hub3 also affect the voice calls?

  5. dave says:

    They should have done this countless years ago using the thick coaxial cable. If people were getting voip audio quality then people would be more likely to use it than their mobile phones. For existing customers without FTTP they can even use their 50v phone line for power so no problems with power cuts.

  6. iain borthwick says:

    I rarely use virgin media phone service as I tend to use my mobile phone calls

  7. Chris says:

    As somebody just about to switch to VoIP (Voneus not VM), I will have the same issues in an emergency. My router is already on a UPS but only a little one that shuts down my NAS safely – just need to add the radio, ata and phone to the UPS. My understanding is that anybody with a BT phone line should still be able make emergency calls even if they are not paying line rental. Of course the BT line fails all the time here so the one time you needed it in an emergency it would be down. My solution is to have a cheapo PAYG mobile on charge all the time (I do have some kind of Vodafone signal) that will always have charge in an emergency even when the UPS has died.

    1. Steve Jones says:

      If by having a BT line without paying line rental you mean that there is an old line into the house which is no longer being paid for, then the answer will be no. It is quite likely not to be connected up to any call equipment at all, so the ability to make an emergency call on it is somewhat moot.

      However, there are circumstances when outgoing calls are suspended, and then I believe that it should still be possible to make emergency calls.

  8. Tom says:

    I have Hyperoptic “broadband only” and a mobile phone, if there’s an emergency you just dial 112 so they know exactly where you are.

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