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Virgin Media Broadband Subs Top 5.2M as 109K New Premises Covered UPDATE

Thursday, November 8th, 2018 (7:31 am) - Score 1,700
virgin media cable network street works

The latest financial update (calendar Q3 2018) from cable ISP Virgin Media (Liberty Global) has seen them add a further 109,000 UK premises to their ultrafast broadband and TV network coverage, while their internet access subscriber base hit 5,202,900 (up by 36.4k in Q3 vs 30k in Q2 and 31.2k in Q1).

Unfortunately the past quarter has delivered some turbulence for the national cable operator, which has seen disagreements over UKTV channels (here), annual price hikes (here) and concern over the slower than expected pace of their £3bn Project Lightning network expansion (here) occupying the headlines.

Speaking of the network expansion, Virgin’s FTTP and Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based EuroDOCSIS cable broadband and TV network has reached an additional 1.4 million UK premises since Project Lightning began in 2015/16 (around 300,000 of those have adopted it). The original aim was to cover 4 million extra premises (17 million total or c.60% of the UK) by the end of 2019 or 2020 but 3 million+ now seems to be a safer bet.

Quarterly (Calendar) Project Lightning Rollout
Q3 2018 = 109,000 Premises
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

Meanwhile the operator also confirmed that they had a total Mobile (EE MVNO) customer base of 3,031,200 (down from 3,034,400 in the last quarter) and 77% of their broadband base is now on an ultrafast (100Mbps+) capable package (up from 76%).

We should also add that they have 4,540,700 telephone customers in the UK (up from 4,486,100) and 3,901,400 video / TV users (up from 3,888,400), while 68% of their broadband base is using the Hub 3.0 (SuperHub v3) router (up from 61%).

Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, said:

“The continued operating and financial momentum at Virgin Media helped fuel our Q3 results. With respect to our U.K. subscriber growth, we generated over 100,000 net additions, which represents a record third quarter performance. This achievement was supported by strong volume growth in both our Project Lightning and legacy footprints.

From a product perspective, we continue to reap the benefits of our next-generation V6 set-top box and Hub 3 WiFi router deployments, as we saw meaningful year-over-year improvement in churn. We also announced a 4.5% average U.K. customer price rise, which should underpin our results in the coming quarters.”

Sadly the update doesn’t give us any hints about their upgrade plans for the future Gigabit capable DOCSIS 3.1 broadband technology (the underlying network is currently being upgraded to support it), although we have separately heard some unofficial whispers that Virgin Media may be preparing to trial a new 1Gbps residential service using their FTTP network to a small number of new build premises.

Likewise we’ve longed suspected that they might be able to squeeze a little bit more speed out of their existing EuroDOCSIS 3.0 network, possibly reaching as high as 500Mbps, although realistically we think they’d do better to focus on improving their weak upload performance. So far the hints we’ve had point to 500Mbps appearing first for Virgin Media Business customers during H1 2019.

One other big question mark concerns Virgin’s next Hub 4.0 (SuperHub v4) router, which hasn’t been announced but seems likely to be based on Liberty Global’s new Gigabit Connect Box (Connect Box 2) or possibly a re-branded version of AVM’s similarly featured FRITZ!Box 6591 Cable router (2533Mbps WiFi speed – Intel chipset).

Both are DOCSIS 3.1 devices and are being used in other parts of Liberty’s cable network around Europe. The previous Hub 3.0 router was also called the Connect Box elsewhere in Europe, which arguably makes the Gigabit Connect Box the most likely candidate for the UK. By comparison the FRITZ!Box is more aimed at SME business users.

The GCB, which is pictured below, features 4 x Gigabit LAN ports, as well as the usual 2 x Analogue Telephone ports (handy for VM’s VoIP phone service) and we understand that the theoretical WiFi peak speed via 5GHz and 2.4GHz is 2183Mbps (slower in the real-world, as per usual). Sadly there are no USB ports but we understand that it may have support for Bluetooth, which is something that you don’t often see in routers.

gigabit connect box router liberty global uk

We did ask Virgin Media about the talk of a 1Gbps FTTP trial for new builds and the possibility of them launching a Gigabit Connect Box, albeit re-branded and coloured black in the UK. The official response on both counts is that they “have nothing to announce at this time.”

Finally, on the financial front, the operator reported quarterly UK geographic revenue of £1,184.0m (up from £1,137.7m at the same time last year).

UPDATE:

Corrected the previous quarter’s figures for TV, Mobile and Phone above as we accidentally included the UK/Ireland ones for those.

UPDATE 11th Nov 2018

Liberty Global’s CEO has stated that Virgin Media’s Project Lightning is currently “building in the £650 to £700 cost per premise range … we’re hitting 30% to 35% penetration after 3 years, and we’re getting better every quarter at selecting high-return build products.”

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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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15 Responses
  1. Meadmodj

    Telephony figures are suspect. Many Virgin lines are included in the packages but are never actively used.

    Variance from June 2018 to September
    Homes passed increased 94,700
    Internet subscribers increased 36,400
    TV subscribers increased 13,000

    Increasing subscribers in this very competitive market has to be encouraging but if the new internet and TV figures include renewed customers on legacy, then the take-up will be of concern to them. They are losing market in Belgium and Switzerland as alternatives become available. The same may happen here in the UK. There is not much to differentiate their TV package in the UK and many subscribers only have TV as the bundles are close to broadband cost alone.

    • CarlT

      Figures don’t include re-contracting customers.

      They hit stagnation point with regards to their customer base a while ago, which is why they are building now.

    • SimonR

      Yep. My phone has never been connected with them, and my TV is little more than Freeview (because I can’t be bothered to redo the aerial).

      I have it for the broadband, and as soon as a provider with better upload is available I’ll move to them (Vodafone are laying fibre somewhere in my town at the moment).

    • Meadmodj

      @CarlT. My figures are from their Subscriber Variance Table – September 30, 2018 vs June 30, 2018. Shows + & – by country so assume net change. No differential between new build and legacy.
      Virgin have cut back on advertising this quarter but from the little TV that I watch they are still heavily promoting. a 13,000 increase may not good against TV advertising costs but they may be focused on retaining customers.

      Most customers happy with 50Mbps so 100 and 300 just noise except for the few. £30 (offer) broadband will not hack it going forward unless they can offer a better product for the price and as MJ highlights review their upload for those that need it. I can’t see them fending off direct FTTP competition and FTTC will keep pressure up on their legacy.

    • CarlT

      Ah, okay. So that is Revenue Generating Units count. Recontracting customers don’t count – whether under a contract or not they’re RGUs. That number is nothing more than new customers – churned customers. Where customers have taken a new product that goes into that number as it’s a new RGU.

      The TV product is feeling the pain from cord cutting and over the top services, much as it is in many other places throughout the world. Telephony the less said the better. Broadband they are in competitive markets pretty much everywhere.

      I am unclear as to why FTTP will cause VM such issues if most customers are happy with 50Mb. 100Mb+ isn’t really noise, the majority of the customer base are taking bundles including 100Mb+. Likewise if most customers are happy with 50Mb and 100Mb and 300Mb are ‘noise’ I don’t see an incentive for review of upload speeds for those that need it as they are ‘the few’.

      FTTP at super-low prices is a way away yet for many so they likely have a way to go yet, and there are certainly things they and other cable companies can and are doing to compete.

      Although I fully expect VM to be acquired sooner rather than later anyway so I don’t really see it as that much of an issue either way. Liberty have started disposing of assets. VM I imagine will be building out Lightning but trying to keep the capital expenditure relatively low outside of that as is standard when waiting to be acquired.

      Telewest did it for years before the reverse-merger with ntl, ntl:Telewest/VM did it for a while when waiting for Liberty to pick them up, VM will be kept under tight cost control by Liberty.

      The cable networks have plenty of room to be utilised, though. HFC is running 1Gb down, 500Mb up in the field on live products in Europe right now. It’s not a GFast from the cabinet situation where it’s pretty much a dead end without a bunch of work. The cables themselves will happily carry 3 GHz and VM are only using 750 MHz of it right now.

  2. Archie

    My area was cabled recently with their RoG. I can’t wait to see gigabit or even this 500 package! (Which if anything their other packages are to go by it’ll be around 530-40 with hopefully a better upload! Even if it’s 30 up, I’ll be happy!)

    Also, I hope the new router isn’t as cack as the hub 3. Even though they’ve supposedly fixed the issues with the ping spikes, I feel as though they’ve likely masked a number of the symptoms and ultimately the problem is still there. I play online and with a fibre connection… this is painful. I really want to see sub 10ms ping times (within the UK).

    My friends who are on much slower BT connections get pings as low as 4/5/6ms regularly on their FTTC connections.

    • CarlT

      No-one on FTTC gets pings of 6ms to anything unless it’s in the same city. 5.x ms to their local exchange perhaps but no further.

      Pings of 10ms throughout the whole UK aren’t happening, regardless of the ISP. Any game that shows a bunch of FTTC users with latency of 4-6ms is either only showing it one way, which is pointless, or is wrong. FTTP users close to the server get those kinds of pings, as soon as you go into hybrid technologies and aren’t near the servers it rises, not that it’s really that much of an issue unless the game has insane net code.

      Sorry to burst your bubble a bit there. If you’re in Scotland you aren’t getting to London and back in much less than 20ms even if you’re sitting in the data centre.

    • CarlT

      Just as another FYI, your ping on VM to your first hop will be about 6ms if all is working properly. Jitter will be higher than FTTC, latency about the same as fast path FTTC.

      sent=11 received=11 packet-loss=0% min-rtt=6ms avg-rtt=7ms max-rtt=9ms

    • Ferrocene Cloud

      I expect BT have a lot more interconnects than VM, I’m pretty sure my traffic heads up to Manchester then back down to London, whereas on WBMC it would take a more direct route.

      And until VM upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 latency is going to be significantly worse. Sadly they’re using that awful RFoG to run DOCSIS instead of doing FTTP properly with PON and Ethernet presentation. What a waste of fibre. Sure, PON can be built over the same fibre RFoG but you’re redoing your brand new infrastructure which is insane.

      If they were upgrading HFC areas to RFoG or extending the HFC to new developments using RFoG it would make much more sense since it improves performance and allows PON migration when the business case makes it worthwhile, but they’re not. Virgin are gimping their brand new fibre infrastructure in a brand new area, instead of building it right as PON first time.

    • CarlT

      DOCSIS 3.1 won’t make any real difference to latency. It tackles buffer bloat and, regardless, VM will be deploying it on the downstream only initially, with the upstream remaining on DOCSIS 3.0.

      VM’s interconnects are fine. They can and do get traffic off their network in various places. If you’re heading to Manchester before you go to London the other option is probably to go to Birmingham. Here’s a map of their core network – https://www.slideshare.net/VirginMediaBusiness/optical-networking-trends-the-virgin-media-business-view

  3. Simon

    “So far the hints we’ve had point to 500Mbps appearing first for Virgin Media Business customers during H1 2019.”

    Im on the 350 with mobile package – if this does appear ill confirm as I will be ordering it!

    • CarlT

      I, however, will give it a pass. I am moving next year and am not going to enter another contract term now, let alone the 24 months that is standard for VMB.

      Relatively recently gone out of contract with existing VMB package. VM not available in new place.

  4. Elle

    “We should also add that they have 4,540,700 telephone customers in the UK (down from 4,838,600) and 3,901,400 video / TV users (down from 4,159,200)”

    I’ll correct that for you…

    We should also add that they have 4,540,700 telephone customers in the UK (UP from 4,486,100) and 3,901,400 video / TV users (UP from 3,888,400)

  5. George

    Exchange cabinet at the end of the street ,have talked with a supervisor over the phone why is not possible to have VM ,they said “Norwich council,they dont give us permission to lay cables in your area,our plans have been rejected for the last 2 years” I guess BT paid them well for this. So im stuck with 65MB and the ppl on the other side of the street can enjoy 200MB+ speeds. in case anybody wants to check this is the post code NR5 0GB

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