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Virgin Media UK Rollout 1Gbps Broadband for All on Network by 2021

Thursday, July 25th, 2019 (7:15 am) - Score 13,537
Virgin Media 2014 UK Logo

Cable ISP Virgin Media (Liberty Global) has pounced on Boris Johnson’s appointment to the role of UK Prime Minister by revealing that it will make broadband download speeds of at least 1Gbps (1000Mbps) available to all 15 million premises on their network by 2021, which is thanks to their long-awaited DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade.

At present Virgin Media’s existing network is still dominated by Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based EuroDOCSIS 3.0 technology, although around 2 million premises of their 3-4 million strong Project Lightning network expansion are anticipated to be reached via the much more capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology. But even FTTP must still adhere to the EuroDOCSIS standard via Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG).

However Virgin’s top package of 500Mbps+ (575Mbps for the theoretical max config rate) is already starting to strain EuroDOCSIS 3.0 and the long-term plan has always been to adopt the newer DOCSIS 3.1 standard for the whole network, although they’re repeatedly delayed this upgrade in favour of more gradual speed boosts (not to mention the greater focus on network expansion and underlying capacity upgrades).

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 (already being actively tested). In being an asymmetric technology we’d expect their upload speeds to be slower than download.

Much of Virgin’s network is already prepared for the DOCSIS 3.1 transition and so once their rollout begins then it won’t take too 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, which is why Virgin has today stated the 2021 date (we assume this means “end of” 2021 but it’s unclear).

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.

The move enables Virgin Media to show the new Government that, despite not being a completely “full fibre” network, they too can already deliver gigabit broadband speeds (albeit only for downloads) to around 55% of homes and businesses across the United Kingdom; predominantly in urban areas.

As such the timing of Virgin’s announcement is key because the only way we can see Boris’s 2025 target for nationwide “full fibre” coverage having even the remotest chance of success is if he waters that target down to include Virgin’s network. Even then it’s still a long shot because the other c.40% of premises will be the hardest, most expensive and slowest to tackle by 2025.

The Rollout Plan

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” to kick start the DOCSIS 3.1 rollout (here). However in May 2019 we leaked a list of several cities that were likely to be covered by their initial rollout and the first were predicted to include Manchester, Reading and Southampton (here).

Virgin Media’s UK Gigabit Cities (Leaked Rollout Plan to ISPreview)

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).

Today’s announcement confirms that Southampton will indeed be the first the benefit and notes that more than 1 million UK premises should be able to access broadband speeds of 1Gbps by the end of 2019.

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“This is a giant digital leap forward for the UK.

Virgin Media has been the unparalleled speed leader for many years. Very soon, for the first time ever, millions of people right across the country will be able to experience hyperfast and reliable gigabit internet connections thanks to the latest technology and the power of our network.

This upgrade plan will see gigabit speeds rolled out at an unrivalled pace right across the country, bringing our customers the future-proof connections of tomorrow.”

Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said:

“We welcome Virgin Media’s commitment to investing further in its network, providing gigabit speeds to millions more households. This shows the race to roll out ultrafast speeds to people and businesses across the UK is really gathering pace.”

The expected move will also provide huge competition for Cityfibre’s fledging FTTH rollout with Vodafone (5 million premises by 2025) and particularly Openreach (BT), which currently holds an ambition to bring their own 1Gbps FTTP network to 15 million premises by around 2025 (four years later) and today only covers 1.5 million premises.

Openreach also has a c.300Mbps capable G.fast network and that currently aims to cover up to 5.6 million premises by the end of 2020 but we fear this may soon be scaled back again.

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, said:

“It’s great to see others working to upgrade their existing networks, but only full fibre to the premises technology can deliver the future-proof connectivity the UK needs.

We’re making full fibre broadband available to another 20,000 homes and businesses each week and we’re hugely ambitious about helping the Government upgrade the entire nation.”

We should add that the DOCSIS 3.1 is backwards compatible with earlier standards, so customers won’t all require the expected new Hub 4.0 router (rebranded Gigabit Connect Box from Liberty Global) to continue using their existing packages but you will need one of those if you expect to take one of the new DOCSIS 3.1 speed plans.

At this point it’s worth reminding readers that at the start of this year Virgin achieved a speed of 8Gbps on the FTTP side of their network as part of a trial in in the large Cambridgeshire village of Papworth (here), which made use of Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON) technology.

Virgin’s announcement also revealed that the broadband usage of their customers had increased by almost 40% in the last year alone and that they have “the capability to roll out multi-gigabit connections and further improvements over the next decade,” which is in keeping with the DOCSIS 3.1 standard as illustrated above.

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.

Further details about future availability, packages and prices are expected to be revealed over the coming months.

UPDATE 29th July 2019

Some readers have been asking about upload speeds on the new 1Gbps packages. Unofficially the plan appears to reflect what we’ve seen in Liberty Global’s other markets, which we’re 99% sure will result in a 1Gbps download and 50Mbps upload (yes.. seriously) package at the top. Sadly this is a bit weaker than the 10:1 ratio being gradually adopted on their slower tiers.

Leave a Comment
38 Responses
  1. Avatar Rich

    They still won’t let those of us that don’t want their crappy TV/Mobile/Landline order 500mbit so I won’t be holding my breath.

    • Avatar Neil David

      It does seem strange that you can only get the 500mb if you take out a total package. I’m hoping this model is revisited in the coming months and that the 500 and 1gbps isn’t cost prohibitive.

    • Avatar Mike

      You can order it standalone under the business section.

    • Avatar ACDeag

      I think they are packaging it that way to constrain demand. The network may not currently be able to handle a large number upgrading to 500Mb.

  2. Avatar Marty

    Think this will cause openreach to budge for an accelerated rollout?

    • Avatar Tim

      Perhaps. But only to Virgin Media areas. So no hope for those in rural areas. Unless a FTTH altnet is coming.

    • It’s possible BT might have to bring forward their proposed dividend cut to fund an even faster FTTP rollout (remember they only just boosted this a couple of months ago!), but I suspect they’ll wait to see what Boris’s strategy is first.

    • Avatar Simon

      Something is going on – I’ve just driven past a group of workmen digging the foundations for 2 new cabs in a busy street in my town which is mixed shops and homes – and by the looks of it they are both going to be g.fast from the offset. (they had the cab housing ready to put right in so I saw it all) My cab is unviable I am told but that’s ok I don’t want BT anyway

      But someone has had a fire up their bottom for sure!

    • Avatar CarlT

      Nah. This is a response to Openreach accelerating FTTP through the Fibre First programme.

  3. Avatar Onephat

    I’ve been on the 500mb package for a few months now and its been great. If 1gb is coming, for me the upgrade will depend purely on the price. Rich have you tired calling them to haggle on the price and just leave the TV box under the bed or something. I pay significantly less than the 99/month for the 500mb + full tv and phone.

    • Avatar Jack

      Could I ask please how much you haggled them down to please? I’m soon to move to a GFast/VM area that can get 330 on BT and 500 on VM but don’t fancy the £99 a month costs….

  4. Avatar Chris

    I’m from Southampton, interested in this. We also have toob rolling out (I think!?) a cheap 1gbps/1gbps service so I will be curious to see how VM price this and what upload they offer. We can get both BT and VM services and I am just out of contract with my BT FTTP so keen to see what I can get for my money!

  5. Avatar Neil David

    Virgin are in the process of digging roads up in my area (Bridgend – South Wales) and installing fibre for the first time. Will this be DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1 – really hope it’s the latter as presumably laying 3.0 only to replace it in a couple of years with 3.1 seems a little pointless and expensive.

    Can’t wait to have FTTP and no signs of it anytime soon from BT.

    • Avatar Ad

      no need to change the fibre lines, it’s just a different compression technology they upgrade at the cabinet.

      Also, the green plastic tubing being laid is just ducting, no fibre cables are in there until the customer orders

  6. Avatar Neil David

    Thanks Ad, didn’t realise that was the case but makes sense. Any idea how long it normally takes from the ducting being laid until services are available to order.

  7. Avatar CC

    It’ll be interesting to see what upload they pair with 1Gb/s down. As a (mainly) WfH-er, if it’s still 35Mb/s then I’ll stick with what I have. If it’s 100Mb/s or greater then it’s probably a day one upgrade for me as it’ll reduce the number of times I need to call in to the office each month.

    • Avatar SimonR

      Yep, appreciate not everybody needs better upload (or realises they might benefit), but for some the upload is a key part of the service. And a part they still seem vague on.

      Whether or not it’s too little too late for them, we’ll see.

    • Avatar Archie

      Virgin have said that they’re aiming for 10-1 so it’ll be 100 hopefully if they’re sticking to their word.

    • Avatar CarlT

      10:1 for the existing stuff below 500. Note 500 has a 35Mb upload.

      To deliver 100Mb would require extensive upgrades. The RFoG areas included – they only have space for 6 upstream channels with current channel configuration. That’s not enough for the 110 up VM would need to configure to sell at 100.

  8. Avatar Dominic Davis-Foster

    Will the upload speed be faster than the awful 2Mbps I had when I left in September? I doubt it

  9. Avatar Archie

    What does mean for those of us that already have their RoG FTTP? Will we be able to order soon?

  10. Avatar Meadmodj

    Is this VM seeking the first move to redefine any future Government objective to be speed rather than a specific technology?

    Boris specifically referred to FTTP with “we should commit now to delivering full fibre to every home in the land not in the mid 2030s — but in five years at the outside”

    • Avatar Gary

      Should it be though ?

      Personally I think it should, Especially if OR and Alt nets can be blocked from overbuild into Virgin covered Areas.

      I know this wont be a popular opinion with some of you, and yes I know theres a ton of issues regarding monopoly provision and freedom for businesses to choose how and where they invest, BUT If there is a desire to achieve anything close to covering the UK with fast connectivity, then you have to minimise overbuild.

  11. Avatar tim

    What is Clive Selley on about with the “but only full fibre to the premises technology can deliver the future-proof connectivity the UK needs.” quote.

    If that is true he best stop his organisation which is still doing more FTTC and G.Fast Upgrades than they are doing ‘full fibre’.

  12. Avatar Aaron

    As an ex Virgin Media installer, I just want to add that the Reading Hub site is larger than you might think, the towns below are all covered by and fed from Reading:

    Reading
    Wokingham
    Bracknell
    Newbury
    Basingstoke
    High Wycombe
    Tilehurst
    Thatcham
    Caversham

    • Avatar Neil David

      Hi Aaron,

      From your experiences, from the time that the pavements are dug up and the tubing laid, how long is it until Virgin start offering its services to those properties?

      My road is due to be dug up within the next 10 days. Thanks in advance.

  13. Avatar TTT

    Virgin being Virgin is suspect the 1000Mbps download speed will be matched with about 10Mbps upload speed (20 if you’re lucky)…

  14. Avatar chris conder

    we would all still be on dial up but for Virgin, and now they will push our monopoly incumbent into much needed real fibre upgrades instead of the FTTC stopgap solution. Good for them! It will be easier for them because the duct they use for their coax can be used for real fibre, which they have been doing for a while now (conversion to coax in the last few inches to use same routers). A forward thinking company.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Kind words but maybe a little misplaced.

      It should be noted that VM have no plans to upgrade anyone served by their hybrid network to full fibre.

      The various companies that built the networks had no choice but to put the plant underground.

      The RFoG is a standard thing for cable companies now: it’s cheaper and faster to build than HFC.

      BT are deploying FTTP using existing ducts and poles as much as possible. Not really forward thinking, ducts are the standard, direct buried cables a bodge.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @CC – How many FTTP premises are being passed by OR each week? You have been asked this before, are you being dense on purpose?!

    • Avatar tim

      “How many FTTP premises are being passed by OR each week”

      According to Mr Selley above its 20,000 a week.

      There is a goal of 15 million by 2025. Dunno how they are going to do that though as at current pace that 20,000 a week is less than 1 million per year.

      The news item says they have currently cover 1.5 Million. So that is 13.5 Million left to do by 2025.

      Going to need to ramp that up to nearer 60,000 a week to reach that goal.

      Of course if they can actually go at that rate and they had bothered back 8 years ago to go with FTTP like many said they should had at the time and continue to say they should rather than the mass soon to be defunct (5 years by their own reckoning if FTTP is now the goal) FTTC and continue to waste time with G.Fast (still going at a higher deployment rate than FTTP is) they may have ramped that figure up higher already.

      Call me again when their goals and figures you are proud of add up and they actually save money and time doing things right from the beginning 😉

  15. Avatar Dave Evans

    So what happened to IPv6, promised since 2017?

    • Avatar CarlT

      Quite a few things. Not sure they’ve ever actually given a timeline.

      There was IPv6 traffic from their AS last week and their telephony service uses it.

  16. Avatar Si1972

    I received a hub 4 yesterday as part of the 1gbit upgrade. While it provides a more stable wifi than the hub 3, it does not seem to support some older devices, for example I have 10 SONOFF Wifi switches that even after disabling the 5GHZ network and trying various settings would not connect. Ended up using an old Wireless Access Point I had to provide a viable 2.4GHZ network to connect to and had to waste one of the 1Gbit ethernet ports on the Hub4 in the process. If you have SONOFF wifi switches I would avoid.

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