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David vs Goliath – Virgin Media Threatens Rival UK Full Fibre ISP Toob

Monday, July 29th, 2019 (8:22 am) - Score 6,424
southampton_toob_ftth_map

The CEO of UK cable and TV operator Virgin Media (Liberty Global), Lutz Schüler, was warned a tiny rival start-up ISP called toob that it “will use everything to keep them out of our city,” which is a reference to how both plan to deploy 1Gbps speed broadband services across the port city of Southampton in Hampshire.

At present Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) dominated EuroDOCSIS 3.0 network – offering speeds of 500Mbps+ to consumers – already covers three quarters of Southampton, although the operator confirmed last week that it would also become the first to benefit from their 1000Mbps+ capable upgrade to new DOCSIS 3.1 network technology (here).

Much of the infrastructure that Virgin needs for this to work already exists and as a result the upgrade itself is almost akin to flicking a switch (i.e. no need to go around digging up streets again), except existing customers will need to upgrade their package and receive a new router in order to benefit from the D3.1 performance boost.

However the announcement was also interesting for another reason. Earlier this year a new Portsmouth-based ISP called toob, which was setup by several of Vodafone’s former directors and has already attracted an investment of £75m (despite not having built anything yet), put the port city first on their list for a new 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network (here).

The provider also has a longer term ambition to expand their full fibre network to pass more than 1 million homes and business over the next 10 years, although initially they would start their rollout in 2019 around the central southern part of Southampton before reaching the rest of the city by the end of 2021 (target is to have 100,000 premises covered by then – possibly including other parts of the UK).

The move has not gone unnoticed by Lutz Schüler (FT paywall), who doesn’t mince his words when promising to “fight back” against the rise of smaller alternative network ISPs (i.e. not only toob but also Cityfibre, Hyperoptic etc.). Schüler added that most such players were more akin to “fibre to the press than fibre to the premises.”

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“We have a Porsche. We would be fools not to leverage that.

It’s good to have competition but we will use everything to keep them out of our city.”

Them be fighting words. At this point we’re going to avoid getting in to the endlessly tedious game of sports car comparisons (awaiting toob to reply that they have a Koenigsegg Agera RS etc.), although Virgin clearly has a huge advantage in that their infrastructure is already present and it’s unlikely that toob would be able to match Virgin’s Pay TV product (at present that’s not something they’re even thinking about).

On the other hand toob’s pure FTTH network would be able to deliver symmetric Gigabit speeds, which is something that Virgin won’t be able to do without a much more significant Full Duplex D3.1 upgrade (no sign of this yet as it requires some big and expensive changes). Equally toob could undercut Virgin’s packages with aggressive pricing but doing this does tend to stretch the payback model for investment.

Admittedly most people don’t tend to need or understand the benefits of ultrafast uploads, which is partly because ISPs almost always focus their advertising on download performance and this is something that will probably work in Virgin’s favour.

No doubt some people will see this as the big boy crapping all over the smaller player(s) but it’s important to remember that these are urban areas, which are naturally aggressively competitive and thus in order to play in these waters you have to be anticipating the possibility of a fight (not that any of this helps the goal of reaching nationwide full fibre coverage). We assume toob has considered this already.

Unfortunately we don’t have any contact details for toob and their website is devoid of such information, although if they want to offer a comment in response to Virgin’s CEO then please do drop us a mail. In the meantime we’re still waiting for their build to start, although Virgin’s 1Gbps service will be live across the city by the end of 2019.

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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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32 Responses
  1. Avatar FTTx

    The choice of City always seemed a little odd. VM upgraded Southampton in 2014/15 so as far as infrastructure goes, its one of the freshest areas and one they would aggressively defend.

    • Avatar SimonR

      Depends how you look at it I guess. Where I am they’ve had dominance of speed for decades (ie, Cable & Wireless -> NTL -> Virgin). I’d have thought they might see it as a big fall from grace, but they’re doing nothing whilst CityFibre develop through the city.

      However, yes – if Southampton is still fresh in their minds then maybe they’re hurt that their patch is being threatened.

      Either way, they come across as a bit ugly. Competitive market, sure, but I left Sky when they started openly bullying competition. I’m sure they’ll miss my money!

    • Avatar Matt

      When thay say thay offer 500mbps to the UK that’s lies my area doesn’t still bloody waiting I cant wait till these little company’s take over with there full fiber networks virgin media just lie to much about everything and there coustmer service is all lame things need to change in the UK and thay need to get rid of these bully’s virgin media

  2. Avatar 5G Infinity

    UK legal requirement is for at least one non-electronic means of contact, eg phone no or postal address

  3. Avatar Neb

    VM is more like Chitty bang bang than a Porsche I’d say.

    Are VM actually planning to go symmetric yet?

  4. Avatar Jed

    Problem for me with VM is that in order to get there 500mbps current offer, you must also get their Oomph TV package … and for me to get the stuff I already get on Sky (F1, Sports, Cinema etc.) that works out at over £200 per month (TV and Internet) as opposed to ± £110 now.

    Plus VM Upload is 35mbps and I have 49, so another whammy. I do cloud backups each day so upload it important so I don’t upset my household who are up 24/7.

    I think competition will be good and successful as long as VM ‘force’ you to take TV if you want 500/1000 speeds.

    Personally I’ll wait for BT 550/1000 offerings

    • Avatar GNewton

      @Jed: Neither VM nor BT have decent upload speeds when it comes to doing backups to cloud services. You may want to go with an altnet provider who can offer symmetric speeds if available in your area. Otherwise, a leased line will be the only other option.

    • Avatar Mike

      VM 500Mbps is available standalone via the business section.

  5. Avatar Joe

    Given VM are not presently caught by the SMP issues with ofcom I think its a dangerous line to take to start using phrases like “we will use everything to keep them out of our city.”

    And Yeah not sure Porsche is the best car to pick 🙂

  6. Avatar Net work

    Hi Lutz Schüler, just to let you know you don’t own Southampton. As soon as toob go live I’d love to switch from vm’s terrible overpriced service.

    Will toob be using vm ducts to deploy? Oh, no, that’s right, vm don’t have to open their network up, needs looking at in my opinion 🙂

  7. Avatar Steve

    Disappointing.
    Why can’t one of the companies actually take on merit that Southampton is already Gb covered so rather than trying to take a % of customers why not go into a city where they will get a majority of customers moving to their faster services?

  8. Avatar FullFibre

    “we will use everything to keep them out of our city”
    What exactly do they mean? Increasing the upload speed to something that’s not pathetic? Reducing fix times for congestion to hours/days rather than weeks/months/years?

    I’ll do everything in my power to avoid VM untill these are addressed (and they have just installed FTTP in the area). VM also shouldn’t be considered a viable optionwhen declaring an area superfast or whatever because the upload speed is far from where it needs to be if we are serious about extracting the most benefit from widespread high speed internet access.

    Good to see competition, especially when it is instilling fear into their rivals.

    • Avatar --

      Virgin can easily do their upload speeds but it’s not something that their network is being used for as the results they have sho. They go based on what they see. What they see is that nobody is really utilising the need for more than 35Mb upload which is why both 500 and 352 are capped there.
      Once uploading becomes something necessary then they will look into increasing it further, but right now the network doesn’t show it.

      I work for VM and they’ve answered this question internally, probably not wise to share it but whatever.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Not sure where the idea they can easily do their upload speeds comes from. To go beyond 50-ish would be far from easy. In some areas it would require extensive work.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @CarlT I totally agree I don’t see how it could be done without replacing a lot of coax kit and/or running fibre & power to a lot more cabs. That being said they could decide to go to a dual ecology and upgrade the upgradable areas faster to symmetric.

      I do not approve of one entity ‘owning a town’ – that is a small town mid West American mindset that is not a good one for the consumer. It didn’t do OR much good to have it all its own way – it was only the alt-nets that started burning the seat of their pants that they were spurred into action.

      I hope VM reap what they sow with these comments.

    • Avatar CarlT

      No need to power more cabinets but getting fibre to them certainly necessary.

  9. Avatar cdh1981

    “It’s good to have competition but we will use everything to keep them out of our city”

    Sounds like another “fibre-to-the-press” comment to me. You’ll use everything except lowing your prices. So not everything, then.

    • Avatar Aaron

      You have a Premium service, pay premium price. Quite simple in all honesty, if you don’t like it then switch providers?

    • Avatar cdh1981

      Hardly a premium service when there are providers out there providing faster cheaper full fibre connections in some cases.
      I did jump ship from VM after 10 years after getting tired of their unrelenting price rises every year. Retentions tried to entice me to stay with a 50Mb connection for £29.99/month, to which I said “no thanks” and went across to Zen where I get 70mb FTTC for £28.99/month and a no price rise guarantee.

  10. Avatar David

    Good luck to toob that’s what I say. Competition is good. We have not seen so much in the way of upgrades from BT and VM for, well, ever. They have had it too good for too long. VM looking to setup a new rural ISP so they don’t get caught out by ofcom.

    Rather than relying on great service they rely on sly tactics.

    Keep up the great PR VM. I suspect Altnets relish the challenge and I think we can see they have the big boys rattled.

    The British love beating up the big companies and supporting the smaller business. I can see VM’s PR people burying their heads in their hands

  11. Avatar FibreBubble

    “The British love beating up the big companies and supporting the smaller business. ”

    This ‘small business’ is being bankrolled by Hunt which capitalises at double Liberty Global and BT put together.

    There are very big companies speculating in UK market at the moment with regulatory support against the much smaller incumbent operators.

  12. Avatar Miss Y Taylor

    I think Virgin Media will win this battle as Liberty along with BT don’t have the Audience as Viirgin & Sky. I also prefer Virgin as the picture doesn’t pixelate. The Others do. Sky also tempt with a price drop, then suddenly, within months, the prices rise. What a RIP off.

    • Avatar SimonR

      This article is about the internet service though, not TV/phone.

      (besides, they all have price rises. Virgin have recently increased mine. At least you’re getting a drop beforehand)

    • Avatar cdh1981

      “besides, they all have price rises”

      Zen don’t.

  13. Avatar Hercules

    What to do it for Virgin Media UK wrong 110 Channels September 2019 likes of Sky 1, Sky 2, FOX HD and FreeSports HD available services programme guide to getting more than house full details channels so why?

  14. Avatar Elizabeth Llewelyn

    Virgin’s customer service Is beyond bad, a foot off the gas might help company to see this and do something about it before they lose more customers

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