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Virgin Media UK Secures Local Full Fibre Contract for Belfast

Monday, September 23rd, 2019 (11:36 am) - Score 2,305

UK ISP Virgin Media Business has won the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) contract for Belfast in Northern Ireland, which will see more than 200 public sector sites being linked up by a new Gigabit-capable data network. The move should also complement Virgin Media’s 1Gbps DOCSIS 3.1 broadband rollout for homes.

Last year saw the UK Government allocate £11.5m of public funding to Belfast from their LFFN programme (here), which among other things included a proposed plan to invest the bulk of that into a new Anchor Tenancy procurement that would provide Dark Fibre upgrades for all the City Council’s networked sites (total contract value of £25m).

As the tender said, “The council is seeking to future proof its network connectivity requirements for the next 20 to 25 years through the installation of gigabit capable network services.” The good news is that, after a long wait, the Belfast City Council has finally awarded this contract to VMB.

As part of the deal, VMB will connect sites across the city providing the ability to support fast and reliable public WiFi, digitally transformed services and new digital infrastructure such as traffic management sensors and 5G smart districts and test-beds (i.e. supporting Belfast’s Future City programme).

Rob Orr, VMB Executive Director, said:

“This deal will bring next-generation connectivity to new areas of Belfast, helping bring together essential services and support the city’s ambitious growth plans.

By connecting more of the city to our gigabit-capable network, we’ll make ultrafast connections available to a greater number of citizens and businesses as part of our commitment to support long-term economic growth in the whole of Northern Ireland.”

Matt Warman, UK Minister for Digital and Broadband, said:

“Belfast has so much going for it and I’m delighted it will benefit from £8 million in UK Government funding to provide its public services with future-proof, full fibre broadband.

A city-wide fibre network will help attract further commercial investment and be a huge boost for businesses and residents.

We want to deliver world-class, gigabit-capable broadband to the whole of the UK and are investing over £650 million in full fibre broadband until the end of 2021.”

The announcement also says that today’s deal will created “new opportunities to bring Virgin Media’s ultrafast, gigabit-capable network to more businesses and residents,” which we assume is a reference to it being able to separately support their commercial upgrade to 1Gbps capable DOCSIS 3.1 broadband technology by the end of 2021 (here). Not to mention their on-going Project Lightning network extension.

Since the company launched its Project Lightning expansion programme in 2015, it has invested close to £100m in Northern Ireland and now offers “ultrafast broadband” services to more than 330,000 homes and businesses. Virgin Media has also connected more than 250 new housing developments since 2015.

This year Carrickfergus, Craigavon, New Buildings, Magheramason and Sion Mills have been connected to Virgin Media’s gigabit capable network, with Lurgan set to follow suit shortly when works are complete. Back in March the operator also announced that it was stepping up its investment in Northern Ireland and opening a new office, which will house the majority of the company’s 350 employees in the country.

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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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10 Responses
  1. Matthew says:

    I wasn’t expecting Virgin to go for this contract.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Unlike elsewhere in the UK and especially England, where there are a lot of alternative network providers, in N.Ireland the field is much smaller. As such Virgin Media and Openreach seemed to be the main contenders for this one.

  2. NGA for all says:

    Apart from the access tails? What is the underlying proposition? Is it an open access network? Is it a managed Ethernet service? Is it a wholesale data transport service? How will it differ from what already exists? Are these just private circuits by another name?

    1. CarlT says:

      You tell us? You were claiming the LFFN programme would deliver x amount of FTTP connections?

    2. NGA for all says:

      CarlT I support and have been involved in creating Open Access networks where the market (BT and Virgin) refused to deliver full fibre services. The idea of more shared duct is a good thing where existing duct is being reserved to support private circuits.

      It is not clear in this case what the model is or the market failure.

    3. CarlT says:

      Linked in the story and mentioned as an ‘Anchor Tenancy’ procurement.

      Description of the procurement:

      Belfast was officially announced as 1 of 13 cities to receive an award from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Local full Fibre Network Programme. The project, led by Belfast City Council, recognises that the provision of quality, reliable high-speed connectivity is a necessity for a 21st century economy and society. As a result, the council is seeking to future proof its network connectivity requirements for the next 20 to 25 years through the installation of gigabit capable network services through Public Sector Anchor Tenancy (PSAT) project. Through the PSAT approach, the council intends to procure the long-term right of use of flexible and future proofed gigabit, symmetrical connectivity as an anchor tenant across its entire estate. A full list of sites are provided indicating those council sites to be connected as a minimum requirement and further sites to be connected within the available budget. The council intends to assume prime responsibility for the installation and maintenance of active equipment used on its own network, and the ongoing provision of managed services via the provisioned PSAT infrastructure.’

      No mention of access to passive infrastructure.

      Have you been involved with any open access networks of this scale, and are we talking dark fibre unbundling or ‘theoretical’ as in a token wholesale product?

    4. NGA for all says:

      Dark fibre product, – 2 small scale (one 8km ring and growing) in the UK doing what the client wants, 2 more in Europe, also small. Would need 50 of the former to create sufficient precedence to call it a market.
      The UK efforts borne of documented BT refusals to support FTTP clusters which was all that was really needed. BT (imho) in both cases protecting private circuits sold to solve a distance/Broadband issue.

    5. CarlT says:

      That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me digging for 8km just for a protection path unless community involvement is present, it is an office park management company dealing, or there’s use of PIA and I imagine the details would be confidential.

      What is your involvement in the projects? I

      This LFFN will be Virgin getting an anchor tenant to build a metro network. They can offer various metro and dark fibre services over this per their product portfolio.

      They may also use the metro network to provide cheaper FTTP build, using the metro network to connect their VHubs to their hubsites through it.

      No 8km dig to get to a single VHub serving 3000 premises being done at part of LFFN will help bring costs within budget.

      A competitor could I am sure rent some dark fibre but they aren’t getting at VM’s ducting.

    6. NGA for all says:

      There was no dig, but some repairs of an old CCTV duct. Re-purpose an existing asset. Impossible to do from scratch unless you own the land or do it over 20 years in the manner of Stokab.
      Virgin already have a substantial network in Belfast. It may encourage an increased reach.
      I was doing what I did for BT for 22 years, solving problems, the art of the possible within the law.

  3. Sally says:

    Why are they happy to do this over there and not over here? and will Brexit mess it all up for them if no deal is the outcome?

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