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Virgin Media UK Target 1Gb Broadband for 8 Million More Homes

Monday, October 5th, 2020 (12:22 pm) - Score 16,368
virgin media cable van and two engineers

The new joint venture between ISP Virgin Media and mobile operator O2 (here) appears to have today resulted in an ambition to expand their gigabit-capable broadband network to reach an extra 1 million premises “within 12 months of the merger closing” (total of 16 million) and to then connect a “further 7 million homes.”

The statement came as part of a jobs announcement, which followed a related opinion piece penned by Mike Fries (CEO of VM’s parent, Liberty Global) and José María Álvarez-Pallete (CEO of O2’s parent, Telefonica). As part of that the pair said they were “determined” to build a “new national connectivity champion” to serve the UK.

Several key measures were mentioned to support this, including their joint plan to invest as much as £10bn to improve the UK’s broadband network and services over the next 5 years (by 2025/26). However, aside from extending 5G mobile coverage to more than 100 UK towns and cities by the end of 2021, the duo also talked about their fixed line network.

Crucially, this marks the first time that Liberty Global has spoken so solidly about going beyond their existing Project Lightning build and now they’ve attached a clear ambition to it (outside of speculative discussions with investors).

Liberty Global and Telefonica Statement:

“Additionally, the companies will have added 1m premises to the 15 million homes and countless businesses that are already gigabit ready for broadband, within 12 months of the merger closing. The merged company also has the ambition to accelerate investments and connect a further 7m homes to gigabit broadband in the coming years, well ahead of the Government’s current broadband ambition.”

At this point it’s worth highlighting that the reference to 15 million premises reflects their Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) and Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based fixed broadband network, which at the last update in August 2020 had already covered 15,072,600 UK homes (here).

Long-time readers will recall that the original goal for Virgin Media’s £3bn Project Lightning network expansion was actually to reach 17 million premises (c.60%+ UK coverage) by the end of 2020 (i.e. 4 million extra premises), which was then briefly brought forward to the end of 2019, before being swept under the carpet after they were found to have overstated their progress (here).

NOTE: By the end of 2021 all of their fixed line network will be 1Gbps+ capable via the DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade.

In other words, while it’s good to see Virgin Media commit to adding an extra 1 million premises, this will still result in them being around a million shy of their original goal. As such the most interesting aspect of their latest opinion piece is the talk of them accelerating to connect “a further” 7 million premises (we’re assuming from the context that this is for fixed lines and NOT including 5G, but it’s not 100% clear).

As we reported last year (here), there has previously been a lot of top-level talk about the new Liberty Networks (formerly Liberty Fibre) company in the UK. The prior expectation was that this may become a vehicle for deploying a new full fibre network out into rural areas, which would do wholesale for ISPs (Virgin Media, Sky Broadband etc.) and also be able to bid on the Government’s £5bn gigabit broadband programme.

The operator could also conceivably split their existing HFC and FTTP broadband network off completely (or only the FTTP side) into the new company and, again, sell access to rival ISPs, albeit with Virgin Media being given special access as an anchor tenant. But all this talk suddenly when quiet after the merger with O2 was announced, until now. But we’ll have to wait and see what form this will take.

Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete and Mike Fries said:

“We want to create a national connectivity champion for the U.K. which can support the country in its digital-led recovery, by investing in the infrastructure the country needs and promoting jobs and apprenticeships to improve the digital skills base. We want to create the leading fixed and mobile competitor in the market, supporting consumers, businesses and society, and this announcement demonstrates our confidence in the long-term potential of the UK’s digital economy.”

As for the jobs’ announcement itself, the merged operator said 4,000 jobs and up to 1,000 apprenticeships will be created by their plans.

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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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25 Responses
  1. A_Builder says:

    “The operator could also conceivably split their existing HFC and FTTP broadband network off completely (or only the FTTP side) into the new company and, again, sell access to rival ISPs, albeit with Virgin Media being given special access as an anchor tenant.”

    I would say that this is more than likely.

    The FTTP side would probably be given a different facia and be made more symmetric so that it can go head to head with OR and AltNets. It would need to be wholesaled to get access to the £5Bn pot.

    The HFC side might also be wholesaled but I expect market interest would be a lot lower given the known issues. Would it be worth all of the investment? Not sure it would? It is only really worth the candle when it is fully 3.1 in both directions and even that is going to be limiting marketability & shelf-life to max 5 years. If you had a choice of Alt Net or OR FTTP you would be pretty crazy to choose HFC unless there was a killer price difference. It would be hard for there to be a killer price difference as the cost of maintaining an HFC network is higher than the cost of an equivalent FTTP network.

    I suspect that the FTTP arm would overbuild HFC where there was commercial demand and the HFC would be withdrawn that way.

    1. CarlT says:

      Drop me a note via LinkedIn and we can discuss further.

    2. A_Builder says:

      I don’t disagree with your comment further down the page that HFC can do 10Gb symmetric.

      I’m only musing the point – is it worth it when there is a huge amount of competition building all over the place with generally very high quality FTTP.

  2. xyz says:

    lol this is ridiculous post, now. they are giving internet hust to all stay conected, befor was total another politic.. shame money washers

    1. mike says:

      Can somebody translate this?

    2. Mark says:

      Boy oh boy do you have a way with words…

    3. freddie says:

      Yes Max can you translate what you just said?

      We all know it’s Max. Same as Cancel VM

  3. Jay Powell says:

    Cant wait untill i get 1gb broadband from virgin as the 500 mpbs is not fast enough for ps5 downloads and xbox series x

    I always use cat 8 eathernet cable for my consoles

    1. Ian West says:

      something wrong at your end not virgin

    2. MD says:

      More than anything I’m impressed that you’ve got both consoles and are able to test their downloading prowess a full 5 weeks before either of them are released in the UK!
      26 mins to download 100GB, assuming you saturate the connection fully and the SuperHub doesn’t melt, isn’t exactly a lifetime…

    3. Ryan says:

      Even at 1GB the max you will see is 300-400 on consoles.

      Something your end I am afraid.

      Here is one tip for Xbox users though: Change the location to Switzerland and the download speeds definitely increases.

    4. freddie says:

      500 is not fast enough? I managed to consume something like 30TB last month and I was away for half of it!

    5. john gittos says:

      Jay I upgraded to Gig 1 three weeks ago and my speeds have never been above 425Mbps , phone calls after phone calls, 3 engineer visits and I have been returned to my previous broadband package.According to one of the engiineers they are having a lot of problems in the Leeds area and unfortunatley they dont seem able to pin point what going wrong .They actually blamed my new Hub 4 initially but given they changed it twice they now say its not that.So unlike you my enthusiasim for faster speeds has disappeared for now.

  4. Essa Moshiri says:

    Interestingly enough in the area i live (Totteridge) end of 2018 i got a letter requesting access to my land for Virgin Media. I know that Covid and Brexit has wiped many project but there has been no word since they reached out.

    Several Attempts has been made to ensure and understand what is going on, and no further detail have been provided.

    With this what i want to say is that there seems to be a lack of transparency of the ongoing project and where deployment is planned or when they might start a project and roll out FTTP.

    1. richard green says:

      what a crock your spouting we have 1gig in and my xbox one s downloads at 750 to 800Mb no problem at all. i think you getting confused between xbox lives multiplayer and there limited update service bandwidth.

      now going back to vm 1gig service i wouldn’t bother getting it the service is terrible we had it since march constant drop outs to their network and their tecs to fast to blame your equipment or setup not theirs.

      if your on the 04 network id say at this time steer clear as at this time they can not resolve the problem.

      plus add to that the broken promise VM made to us gamers that we would always see a min of 10% upload against the down i wouldn’t say 50 is 10% of a gig would you, frankly im just biding my time waiting on a 100/100 service will do me as long as its stable

      and finally their claim of being the fastest provider in the uk is false as hyper fibre not only matches their gigabit connection their upload speeds are far superior to VM they just dont have the reach VM does but are expanding here in the uk and as soon as we get something like this touch base in our area im off even if it double the cost vm is

  5. William Ulstermanne says:

    Ah VM – The textbook case for poor customer service and general under handedness when being transparent with customers.

    There was a missed opportunity here forcing them to share HFC ducts with other Alt nets.

    Copper can goto hell.

    Que – Copper apologists and poverty of vision

    1. CarlT says:

      VM’s copper can happily handle symmetrical 10 Gbit and is fine for the foreseeable with changes to the kit either end of it.

      It’s ‘cue’ by the way when you prompt someone.

  6. Cancel VM says:

    Wouldn’t trust either of them. Good riddance to both.

  7. MadDave says:

    Really they can’t even serve a proper internet broadband service,the last 3 days we had a loss of 6 hours each day,absolute joke

    1. Mark says:

      You know every ISP suffers outages right? It also worth mentioning that VM and Sky are voted the best, they obviously didn’t get that vote from “not serving a proper internet broadband service”

  8. freddie says:

    O2 are terrible so I hope they don’t try and fudge 5G

  9. FibreBubble says:

    Virgin takes £11Billion of debt to the o2 merger party and now another £10Billion network expansion added to the pile.

  10. Connor says:

    I’ll only be impressed when they start deploying decent modems.

    It’s insane to think I have to use the Hub 2 to get get around the issuss on their horrific new modems.

    1. Wxc says:

      That’s the difference between Arris and Netgear, Netgear actually know what they’re doing.

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