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Virgin Media UK Not Planning to Speed Up Cable Network Expansion

Friday, August 10th, 2018 (11:58 am) - Score 6,733
virgin_media_engineers_plan_map

The overall boss of cable broadband ISP Virgin Media (Liberty Global) has told investors that their £3bn Project Lightning network expansion, which at the current pace will struggle to complete the target of 4 million UK premises passed by the end of 2019, won’t be ramped up. Meanwhile they do plan to target more MDUs.

So far the operator’s deployment programme has successfully expanded their FTTP and Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based EuroDOCSIS cable broadband and TV network to reach an additional 1.3 million UK premises since around 2016/15.

However, at the current pace, they’re only completing around 500K premises per year, which means that ideally they would need to go a fair bit faster in order to hit their 2019/20 completion target of 4 million extra premises (total coverage of 17 million or c.60% of the UK).

Quarterly (Calendar) Project Lightning Rollout
Q2 2018 = 118,000 Premises
Q1 2018 = 111,000 Premises (likely impacted by heavy snow)
Q4 2017 = 159,000 Premises
Q3 2017 = 147,000 Premises
Q2 2017 = 127,000 Premises
Q1 2017 = 102,000 Premises

Liberty Global released their latest results yesterday (here), although the most interesting feedback on their Project Lighting work only followed later in the day during a meeting with investors. As part of that Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, noted that they’d connected 280,000 customers from the 1.3 million built so far (representing over 650,000 revenue generating units).

Mike added that LG/Virgin are now focusing on “cost-effective build opportunities” and he noted that the new regulation being introduced in the UK would enable them to “target more [Multi Dwelling Units]” / large residential buildings (e.g. Ofcom and the Government’s various changes to boost access to existing infrastructure and foster more “full fibre” connectivity – example). But the most interesting remarks were reserved for their build progress.

Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, said:

“We kind of like this pace that we’re building at now. And it’s driven, most importantly, by just optimizing the capital cost and ensuring that the returns stay where we want them to be.

We could build faster. I think [the team] could easily ramp up. But I think from where we sit today this is a steady pace, and one that ensures we’re driving the lowest cost per premise and attacking and penetrating the most attractive areas of the market. And that’s going to continue.

I think the trend going forward is going to be lower cost per premise as we look at MDUs, as the legislation we referenced gives us an opportunity to penetrate those markets more aggressively.”

Mike continued on to add that he didn’t see anything that “would probably push us to increase the pace,” although equally the operator doesn’t see anything that would “slow that pace down materially” either. In other words, there seems to be no chance of reaching 4 million by the end of next year and in our view sometime in 2021 may now be more realistic.

The catch is that Mike also refused to say whether their project would now achieve 4 million as planned. “I am not going to give you long-term guidance whether it’s three million or four million,” which means that it could still complete on time but possibly with distinctly less coverage than first announced.

The news will no doubt be welcomed by Virgin’s rivals in the urban space, particularly Openreach (BT), Hyperoptic, Cityfibre, TalkTalk and Vodafone that are targeting some of the same areas. Another question mark is whether or not FTTP will still account for roughly half of the network expansion or not (the operator has been very coy about that).

On the other hand if the current pace and a weaker end-coverage than planned is what delivers the best result for their balance sheet then we can well understand that position. VM are of course a commercial company and they are not using state aid to help expand their reach like others.

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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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22 Responses
  1. Neb

    Was the 4M target aspirational from the outset then? The twist to now target MDUs as a preference is that cause the project budget to this point has over run?

  2. VM Customer

    Sums up Virgin Media totally:

    “Slow to get anything done”

    just like any over utilisation issues, modem chipset issues, firmware updates, new set top boxes – everything they do is at a snail’s pace. Once leading, now in danger of getting overtaken.

    • elle

      @VM Customer: Slow to get anything done?

      Virgin have delivered an additional 1.3 million UK premises to date while others (TalkTalk, Vodafone, Cityfibre etc.) promise to [perhaps] deliver network expansion by 2020, 2023, 2025, 2030, 2099 etc

      Virgin offer the fastest widely available broadband in the UK (and Ireland) with over 75% of their customers on 100Mb or faster while their major rivals are still flogging 10Mb ADSL as standard

      Virgin is the only major ISP to actually increase their advertised speeds while others using BT’s network have been forced to reduce theirs.

      Virgin may have been last (after BT & Sky) to launch a 4K STB but they now enjoy the highest uptake in the UK with 50% of their entire TV base using the latest V6 box.

      Virgin will also be the first to deliver gigabit speeds in the UK (and Ireland) on a mass scale while others continue to talk about it doing it.

    • Ferrocene Cloud

      elle, it would be nice to know when Virgin Media are actually going to roll out a gigabit service, because there has been no firm plans released to my knowledge, or any news on DOCSIS 3.1. Meanwhile Openreach have had a massive kick in the rear, and other providers providing higher speed symmetrical services are gaining more traction.

      Let’s also not forget that by using DOCSIS instead of migrating to FTTP GPON (even new areas are using DOCSIS RFoG for compatibility with existing crappy kit, on coax presentation to the property), which adds much higher latency, Virgin Media are continuing to back the wrong technology instead of future-proofing their network. At some point all that copper is going to have to be ripped out.

      And the SH3 nonsense has been shocking customer service. If Openreach did an FTTP overbuild I’d drop VM in a heartbeat. Whatever BT’s failings, at least I can use better kit than what they provide.

    • VM Customer

      Not so fast at fixing over utilisation, faulty modem firmware causing lag or slow TiVo boxes are they as I said but you didn’t answer that bit before jumping to VMs defence.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “just like any over utilisation issues, modem chipset issues, firmware updates, new set top boxes – everything they do is at a snail’s pace. Once leading, now in danger of getting overtaken.”

      Over Utilisation gone over numerous times to you on here is a in tiny specific areas not in general if it were they would not be delivering 362Mb on their 350Mb service.
      https://www.thinkbroadband.com/isps/virgin
      Whinge over there if you think that info is wrong.

      Faulty modem Firmware is due to the intel puma chipset, again gone over before on here.

      The V6 box from Virgin is one of the newest on the market and one of the fastest capable of REAL 4K and you can stream direct to it with no issues or using your own broadband connection as it is capable of acting as its own service flow and using the hotspot service. SO no idea what you are on about.

    • VM Customer

      How long did it take VM to roll out updated firmware after Intel made changes (notice I didn’t say fix it!)….oh yes a VERY long time after, still doing it (or just completed maybe).

      Utilisation and single thread download issues were wide spread across the country covering large numbers and whole areas. VM even tried to deny single thread issues. Taken 2 years to resolve and not all areas fixed yet.

      Then there was the routing issues to Europe that went on for months that VM tried to deny again.

      And not forgetting DNS failures if you happen to use their DNS which most of their customers do. This outage is usually fixed the quickest though.

      Finally onto TIVO, it took around 5 years to come up with the V6 after the first TIVO went to the dogs in performance terms. The SKY Q box is still vastly better than the new TiVo is. Better interface.

    • dean

      “How long did it take VM to roll out updated firmware after Intel made changes (notice I didn’t say fix it!)….oh yes a VERY long time after, still doing it (or just completed maybe).”

      It took them 2 days after Intel released a improvement to the chipsets firmware for them to integrate it and start a trial to customers.

      Everyone who has a hub 3 with an Intel and Atheros AR9xxx chipset it has been rolled out to. Those with early hub 3s with non Atheros chipsets can replace their hub for free with a quick phone call.

      “Utilisation and single thread download issues were wide spread across the country covering large numbers and whole areas.”

      Please point to these large wide spread issues, there does not appear to be even a small amount of the approx 5 million userbase complaining. And NO their own forums only have a small number of complaints in relation to the entire userbase.
      Hasnt this all been gone over with you before?

      “Then there was the routing issues to Europe that went on for months that VM tried to deny again.”

      What routing issues, do you mean the Linx ones which are not down to VM?

      “And not forgetting DNS failures if you happen to use their DNS which most of their customers do. This outage is usually fixed the quickest though.”

      Dunno how you would know what most customers use as their DNS unless you have a crystal ball (going to point to the odd post out of millions of users on their forum again are you) But regardless every ISPs DNS has outtages, even google DNS has an outtage every month or two.

      “Finally onto TIVO, it took around 5 years to come up with the V6 after the first TIVO went to the dogs in performance terms.”

      NO a new box came out to support 4K no different to any other TV provider including Sky and BT.

      “The SKY Q box is still vastly better than the new TiVo is. Better interface.”

      LMAO better interface makes it better does it LMAO, shame it is slower and no thats a fact go research the processor and chipsets you clown.

    • VM Customer

      Dean, you talk twiddle yet again.

      VM have taken longer than most other cable companies globally to roll out the Intel firmware. They are still doing it. Check the dates Intel made fixes available, it’s on The Register for example.

      As for DNS, you seriously not going to dispute that most customers use their ISPs DNS servers are you??!!!!! Yes some use OpenDNS or something else but it’s small.

      You must either work for VM or a sycophant.

      You can have a better chipset no one disputes that, but if the underlying OS or application is not efficient it can be worse than a slightly worse chipset without the baggage. Hardly rocket science and just showing how stupid you are. Apps need to be written and compiled efficiently, not too many system services running, effective memory reclaimation etc.

      Next you will tell me that Docsis 3.0 hybrid fibre is better at ping/lag than Fttc or Fttp – it can’t because of RF conversion to optical node. Do you agree with that or going to say VM is better than anyone else? I’m sure you’ll think of something twiddle to say lol

      As for the kind toying issue, that was one recent occurance. Previous DNS outages and routing issues have been at VM’s door.

      Now Dean, please enlighten us with your wisdom about the single thread download issue that is still going on in some areas, you kept quiet about that one yet it affected pretty much anyone in those areas (and it was geographically many) and VM kept quiet, denying it, and then when found out couldn’t even say any form of rough indication of a fix for each area.

      For anyone not in the know here, the single thread issue is when you download a file in a web browser (most common use) and you get 500kbps to 12mbps at most speed when usually, as an example, if you were on vivid 200 and got 220mbs on average before the issue from a good website. Vivid 200 in this example is always profiled at higher speed, typically 230mbps.

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      “VM have taken longer than most other cable companies globally to roll out the Intel firmware.”

      You would not even know any other cable company that uses the same chipset, so don’t make me laugh. VM took 2 days. Please link to dates Intel released a fix if you can show otherwise.

      “As for DNS, you seriously not going to dispute that most customers use their ISPs DNS servers are you??!!!!! Yes some use OpenDNS or something else but it’s small.”

      How would you know? You still refuse to answer.

      “You must either work for VM or a sycophant.”

      You do not even know the meaning of the words you use, or you actually think for some reason you have any importance. Impotence maybe.

      “You can have a better chipset no one disputes that, but if the underlying OS or application is not efficient it can be worse than a slightly worse chipset without the baggage. Hardly rocket science…”

      So Something can be worse then something slightly worse……. Yeah that is not rocket science that is either alternate dimension stuff or your meds not working.

      “Apps need to be written and compiled efficiently, not too many system services running, effective memory reclaimation etc.”

      A modem does not have apps. Its not the apple store.

      “Next you will tell me that Docsis 3.0 hybrid fibre is better at ping/lag than Fttc or Fttp – it can’t because of RF conversion to optical node.”

      Ouch my sides, explain that more to me, LOL *in tears*

      “I’m sure you’ll think of something twiddle to say lol”

      I do not even know what this “twiddle” is you keep mentioning.

      “Now Dean, please enlighten us with your wisdom about the single thread download issue”

      No idea what you are on about.

      “For anyone not in the know here, the single thread issue is when you download a file in a web browser (most common use) and you get 500kbps to 12mbps at most speed when usually, as an example, if you were on vivid 200 and got 220mbs on average before the issue from a good website. Vivid 200 in this example is always profiled at higher speed, typically 230mbps.”

      How is the speed another machine transmits at VM fault?

    • VM Customer

      You reply shows your ignorance clearly!

      I actually laughed reading your reply.

      Firstly, whats the rubbish answer about a modem? Who was talking about modems?

      Secondly, single thread issue is nothing to do with internet hosts or customers machines!!! It was VMs fault with legacy equipment aka River Delta until they replaced the CMTS hub site infrastructure.

      And you say I’m on meds hahahaha!!! Yes you don’t work for VM but a professional clown.

      And people haven’t finished contracts yet in many cases but will look for a discount because of big holes in series links on the uktv channels if not repeated by then. The latest quarter 2 financials have a cut off and that was BEFORE UKTV was pulled. If you worked for a large company in relevant capacity, you would know that.

    • dean

      “Dean, you talk twiddle yet again.”

      You on the other hand talk twaddle.
      (best to know how to spell an insult nub)

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      Good to see Intel have taken the blame for the chipset issues in modems… Shocker another thing a certain individual was wrong about.

  3. occasionally factual

    Wheels coming off expansion because it isn’t cost effective.
    Hardly surprising given the public’s demand for free broadband is the biggest driver in UK telecoms.

    • VM Customer

      Free? I think most people expect to pay for Broadband, they just don’t expect to be ripped off to subsidise Bt’s sport channels. BTs standard pricing for FTTC is a lot higher compared to similar speed from Virgin. BT keep pushing up prices and a lot of others copy.

      Higher speeds attract a premium sure, but a lot of ADSL is priced not far off areas with fibre even though much slower on both download and upload and annoying for people who can’t get fibre/FTTC. Also people pushed into bundles of services for initial better value for say 12 months.

      A few years ago broadband seemed to get cheaper, and recently seems to go up and up, particularly since BT moved into sports coverage. Accept I could be wrong if the stats said otherwise. Could be line rental increases making it appear that way…

  4. Ken Halliday

    It’s sad that Virgin is the best solution current for me. I am paying £74+ a month for “200 Mbps” and the land line telephone. Obviously, I never get that speed, so I chatted online to one of their agents the phone line being a waste of time. They offered me a “special deal” of £57-odd for the same deal, but dropped to 100mbps, on a 12 month contract. I checked online, and NEW customers are offered this “special” deal for £29.99 for a 12 month contract. So, having been a loyal member of Virgin for many years, they still like to rip me off. Anyone know of a similar deal with another outfit?

    • Simon

      No. apart from the fact I paid £48 full price for 350/20 and get that 24/7 (internet only)

      So they are totally ripping you off dude 🙁

    • Mike

      @Ken

      Is that whilst connected to the superhub via a ethernet cat6 cable?

    • un4h731x0rp3r0m

      NO different to any provider that offers new customers special introductory deals.

    • BuckleZ

      ouch i pay £44 for 350 internet, phone line (weekend) and freeview TIVO

    • VM Customer

      Anyone out if contract with Virgin Media and can’t negotiate a fair price to be handcuffed into another fixed term contract are better leaving for say one year and rejoining.

      Not all people may be able to, as they may get poor speeds from FTTC or not available to them.

      Rejoin as a new customer – get cashback deals on Quidco/topcashback which can be handsome, and a new customer offer.

      I did this and rejoined after they finally fixed area issue after a year of having it, and got a cracking bundle deal with free gift, cashback and refer a friend credit. Until that point I had been a VM customer previously for around 11 years. For the year I was away from them, BT gave me £150 visa reward card, free home hub 6, a free new line installation, free activation and £15 off normal monthly subscription cost. At the end, I used the price increase letter to escape two months early from contract and rejoined VM. There is also no £31 cease fee of services if with BT Broadband now.

      This is what you have to do these days, move around so you can get the best offers for your custom.

  5. Jazzy

    It always pays to re-negotiate contracts for TV, most people don’t bother even though they do it for their mobile.

    Last year I found a cracking plusnet deal and went to Sky with it as my contract was up. After much winging they agreed to beat it. I am now paying £26 for box sets and basic channels (no movies or sport) which is a 1/3rd off all tv for life plus £17.50 for fibre max (£7.50 discount) for one year and £9.49 line rental (9.50 discount) for one year. In May when it was due for renewal again I received a letter in the post, honouring it for another year, so I didn’t have to ring up and winge again. I let them offer it again. I feel like I got a good deal

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