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Named – Virgin Media’s Possible UK 1Gbps Broadband Launch Cities

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019 (9:53 am) - Score 18,727
gigaworld

Several credible sources have informed ISPreview.co.uk that cable ISP Virgin Media’s future “Gigabit Cities” rollout, which will mark their first major UK activation of the new DOCSIS 3.1 network upgrade, seems likely to be expanded with 3-5 UK cities now in the frame for launch around 2019/20.

At present Virgin Media’s existing HFC / FTTP network uses EuroDOCSIS 3.0 technology and their fastest consumer ultrafast broadband package delivers download speeds of 500Mbps (575Mbps for the theoretical max config rate) and uploads of 35Mbps (38.5Mbps max). In theory they could still squeeze a little more out of this but the focus now is on enabling the new DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade (i.e. like parent Liberty Global started in Germany and Poland).

The 3.1 standard is theoretically capable of delivering a peak downstream speed of 10Gbps (or 10,000Mbps+ if you prefer) and uploads of 2Gbps, although end-user packages will obviously start at a much lower rate and the initial launch seems set to be sold alongside download speeds of 1Gbps (this is being actively tested).

At the end of February 2019 the boss of Liberty Global, Mike Fries, highlighted some of their plans for “2019 and beyond,” which included the “launch of two gigabit cities in the UK” (here). However the operator may now be going for a much bigger launch this year than first proposed.

In keeping with that our sources have helped us to identify three cities where Virgin Media has already begun testing a 1Gbps service using DOCSIS 3.1 technology, which is being done alongside a new (future) Hub 4.0 wireless router (required for DOCSIS 3.1 services). Being in the testing does not mean for certain that these will be the confirmed launch cities in 2019, although it does look extremely likely.

NOTE: DOCSIS 3.1 is backwards compatible with earlier standards, so customers won’t all require a new Hub 4.0 router to continue using their existing packages. Initially only those taking the new Gigabit plans will get it.

Virgin Media’s UK Gigabit Cities (Testing)

Possible for 2019:

Manchester
Reading
Southampton

Possible for late 2019 but early 2020 more likely (*):

Basingstoke
Bracknell

* Reading is a big area and if Virgin’s main hubsite were enabled then we could easily see Basingstoke and Bracknell being added to the initial launch list (no testing taking place directly in those, yet).

The ability to rollout such speeds, at rapid pace and scale, across a network that already covers just over half of UK premises, is not to be understated and could also be seen as somewhat of a counter-move to the rising future threat from full fibre (FTTP) focused alternative network ISPs (Cityfibre, Hyperoptic etc.). Not to mention Openreach’s (BT) raised ambition for 15 million UK premises by around 2025 (here).

The DOCSIS 3.1 standard is able to achieve all of this by making several big improvements, such as by harnessing the power of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) – used in all sorts of networks to split a single signal into multiple frequencies (each of which can carry data) – and improved error correction (Low Density Parity Check). On top of that they’ll also boost their radio frequency (spectrum) allocations.

We did ask Virgin Media for a comment earlier this morning but have yet to hear back, although their usual response to such queries is “no comment“. As for the new Hub 4.0 router, we’ll be able to confirm a few more details for this later, but for now the test unit comes in black with bits of red/green (i.e. the usual VM branding / colour scheme).

Much of Virgin’s network is already prepared for the DOCSIS 3.1 transition and so once their rollout begins then it shouldn’t take long before the rest of their network is covered. Certainly it will happen significantly faster than it would take Openreach to reach 15 million premises with FTTP.

docsis hybrid fibre coax cable standards table

NOTE: Ignore Full Duplex DOCSIS 3.1 above as Virgin’s UK network is nowhere near ready for that and won’t be for a long.. long time.

UPDATE 4:38pm

Sorry I forgot to update about the Hub 4.0. We’ve noted that the router being used in the above tests is indeed a rebranded version of Liberty Global’s Gigabit Connect Box, which is the same kit we predicted back in February 2019 (here).

The GCB features 4 x Gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as the usual 2 x Analogue Telephone ports (for VM’s VoIP phone service) and we understand that the theoretical WiFi peak speed via 5GHz and 2.4GHz is 2183Mbps (10 antennae). There are no USB ports on the original GCB design but we understand that it may have support for Bluetooth.

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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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23 Responses
  1. Avatar Somerset

    VM are installing fibre duct to properties in a small part of Weston-super-Mare.

    • Fibre duct is neither here nor there for the above story. DOCSIS 3.1 is the underlying network standard they use for both FTTP fibre (rfog) and hybrid fibre coax. So what matters is where D3.1 is being tested with the Hub 4.0s, which is as above.

  2. Avatar CC

    Are they going to deliver IPv6 as part of the Docsis3.1/Hub4 roll out or will that be a separate project?

  3. Avatar George

    Does anyone know if they will offer any other packages on their DOCSIS 3.1 network, such as a 100 megabit package? And if so will there be any upload speed increases?

    • Avatar CarlT

      The 3.1 product is using 3.0 upstream. There is no point in VM giving a 100Mb customer a new, expensive modem to provide them a service the 3.0 network is capable of.

      The 3.1 release does not mean products are going to be more symmetrical for now.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @CarlT

      I suspect VM will be forced to offer better upstream as most of the Alt Nets are symmetric and they are connecting fast in some areas of London. VM must be feeling the numbers squeeze.

      Even the OpenReachosarus must at some point up their game!

      I hear what you said before about the OR ECI and have head the same thing – crazy crazy crazy penny-pinching. All of that ECI 300Mb rubbish will have to be replaced or upgraded before too long otherwise ECI OR fibre areas will still be at the mercy of the Alt Nets.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Some Openreach manager/ director probably got a bonus from saving a relative pittance buying kit with no 10G capability so it’s all good.

  4. Avatar SimonR

    Odd that they’re not targeting places where Cityfibre et al are rolling out. In Peterborough, VM/NTL/C&W were the go to company for decent home internet for a long while (unless you were unlucky with the location).

    Now Cityfibre are getting closer to my house each week – less than a mile away now.

    • Avatar Laurence Parry

      Maybe they want to lock in customers elsewhere where there is no competition, rather than fight for a slice where there is.

    • Avatar SimonR

      Maybe, yes. Just seems odd that they’re investing in new territories whilst having existing dominance erode.

  5. Avatar Herve Shango

    As soon as VM has done the cities and rural villages, they can then dump more investments in the big cities of the UK too, like Manchester, Birmingham, London and Leeds/Liverpool and many more. Btw I’m on about the new hub 4.0s and the fibre connections.

    • Avatar George

      Does the fibre go straight into the hub 4.0 or does it still go to that blue box and get converted into coaxial?

    • They still convert it on the outside of your property from fibre to coax, which enables them to share the same standard and hardware across different deployment types. Frankly the final few metres of coax inside the home, while it might seem odd, don’t make much noticeable difference.

  6. Avatar Ferrocene Cloud

    Switching to DOCSIS 3.1 would seem to future proof the service for a reasonable amount of time, but I have to wonder at what point VM are going to have to bite the bullet and move to actual GPON/XGPON/NGPON rather than RFoG/HFC. I guess it would be relatively easy to convert the RFoG segments to PON when the business case is there though.

    And HPON sounds like an interesting option for deployment and migration which in some ways is better than GPON/XGPON.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Not on the radar and a step back.

      Migration is RFoG -> RFoG + EPON -> EPON.

      RFoG delivering everything initially then broadcast services only and finally going all IP much as Verizon and others have with the difference it being EPON as it fits better with a DOCSIS-based network.

      See the line cards on offer for the Arris E6k for example for why EPON. One chassis, DOCSIS for HFC and RFoG with an EPON overlay.

  7. Avatar Chris

    Interesting, any idea on speeds? Currently on BT ultrafast 2 but keen to go faster for £60 a month! I’m living in Southampton and Virgin offer services to my property but went with BT as they had a much better upload.

    • Avatar Ashley

      Chris i’m in Southampton too, i’m on the 350 tier and upload is 38, also this could be interesting as toob is meant to be covering Southampton as well.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Speeds 1Gb down, 50-100Mb up.

  8. Avatar Adam

    I’m in Southampton. Do you think when they launch it cover all of Southampton at once or will they do it in waves?

    • Avatar ACMT

      To ensure quality and make sure they don’t cause any issues, they’ll most likley do it in waves as per the 350/500, similar to how there’s still currently areas where only 200 is available.

  9. Avatar mike

    Always the same cities. Why not target smaller cities where there are currently no competing gigabit services?

  10. Avatar Virgin Media

    Can’t wait for Virgin media to roll out 10Gbps in Nottingham

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