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Virgin Media UK Tops 5.42 Million Broadband Users as Network Grows

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021 (7:51 am) - Score 4,176
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Broadband ISP and TV provider Virgin Media UK (Liberty Global) has just published their latest Q4 2020 results, which saw their network coverage extend to another 115,000 premises and their internet access base add +54,700 new customers (up from +47k in the previous quarter) to total 5,420,100.

Since the prior results Virgin Media has seen a number of changes, such as the start of upgrades to their new 636Mbps broadband bundle (here) and parent Liberty Global promoting a move to DOCSIS 4.0 technology with future speeds of 10Gbps (here). The operator has also launched their new next generation TV 360 platform (here) and they’ve continued to extend their 1Gbps DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade to more areas (here).

Meanwhile the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is still busy examining what regulatory concerns may exist around Virgin Media’s proposed £31bn mega merger with mobile operator O2 (here), although it remains to be seen if this will result in any significant obstacles. On top of that Virgin’s new £15 per month “Essential Broadband” plan, which is intended for those who receive Universal Credit, has also gone live (here).

Finally, the operator’s mobile division (Virgin Mobile) launched their first Vodafone (MVNO) based 5G plans (here), introduced their Intelligent Wi-Fi Plus mesh solution (here) and also made their unlimited mobile data tariff available to all (here). Otherwise, we note that VM’s mobile and internet base continues to grow, while their fixed line phone and video (TV) customers are still in decline.

Quarterly UK Customer Figures for Q4 2020
5,420,100 Internet – (up from 5,365,400 in Q3 2020)
4,463,200 Phone / VoIP – (down from 4,489,800)
3,358,300 Mobile – (up from 3,349,600)
3,498,000 Video / TV – (down from 3,525,500)

As usual the results also included an update on the pace of their Project Lightning network roll-out, which has so far added a total of 2.5 million UK premises since 2015/16 and that includes another 115,000 premises that were added to their network coverage during the last quarter (down from 125,000 in the previous quarter). This may have been impacted by the brief pre-Christmas lockdown in Q4 2020.

As it stands Virgin Media has civil engineering contracts that will see their build continue for the next few years and they have big ambitions for the future. Last year the operator spoke of their “ambition to accelerate investments and connect a further 7 million homes to gigabit broadband in the coming years,” although the details of precisely how they’ll approach that remain unclear (here), pending the outcome of their O2 merger.

Project Lightning Rollout Since 2017
Q4 2020 = 115,000 Premises (impacted by COVID-19)
Q3 2020 = 125,000 Premises
Q2 2020 = 93,000 Premises (impacted by COVID-19)
Q1 2020 = 93,000 Premises (some impact from COVID-19)
Q4 2019 = 154,000 Premises
Q3 2019 = 119,000 Premises
Q2 2019 = 130,000 Premises
Q1 2019 = 102,000 Premises
Q4 2018 = 144,000 Premises
Q3 2018 = 109,000 Premises
Q2 2018 = 118,000 Premises
Q1 2018 = 111,000 Premises (likely impacted by heavy snow)
Q4 2017 = 159,000 Premises
Q3 2017 = 147,000 Premises
Q2 2017 = 127,000 Premises
Q1 2017 = 102,000 Premises

NOTE: Virgin’s UK network now covers a total of 15,310,800 UK homes passed.

The previous cost per premises estimate for their network expansion was c.£605 “with scope for this to fall further” and they’ve been achieving a respectable 30-35% penetration after 3 years. The good news is that their cost per premises figure has now fallen to £590 in Q4, thanks to greater use of Openreach’s Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) product, and they expect that downward cost trend to continue.

On the financial front Virgin Media reported total quarterly revenue of £1,336.6m (up from £1,291.4m in the previous quarter), although we should add that this particular figure includes their Ireland operations too as they haven’t included a split for the UK.

Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“2020 was a year like no other. I am immensely proud of how our people have risen to the challenges presented by the global pandemic. They have remained committed to our plan and have worked tirelessly to provide essential connectivity and entertainment services for our customers. Our convergence strategy is delivering; it contributed to record low churn, our highest fixed customer additions since 2017 and record postpaid mobile additions.

Our gigabit rollout has continued at pace and we are now the largest provider of 1Gbps speeds in each of our markets reaching 7.1 million homes in the U.K. and 98% of homes across our Irish footprint. In Q4, we launched Virgin TV 360, our next generation TV platform, transforming our customers’ viewing experience. Innovation has continued into 2021 with recent launches of Intelligent WiFi Plus and 5G services.

2020 marked the second year of our plan to return to sustainable growth and I am delighted with the progress we have made. Our programme of investments will continue in 2021, creating a solid foundation for our combination with O2 and contributing towards significant FCF growth in the future.”

At present 2021 is shaping up to be another big year for Virgin Media. The operator has a huge mega merger with O2 to deliver and we may also find out what their final plans are for establishing a new alternative network in the UK (Virgin Media Networks Limited), which could potentially serve rural premises (with FTTP) – beyond VM’s existing network area (here) – and may even offer wholesale access to rival ISPs (here).

In an ideal world we’d also like to see them apply the DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade to their upstream channels too (possibility for better upload speeds and faster latency), but it’s plausible that they may wait to do that until after their general DOCSIS 3.1 downstream rollout has completed at the end of 2021. Finally, at some point, we’d love to see them adopt IPv6, but the goal posts on that seem to shift more frequently than COVID-19 can mutate.

Otherwise, it’s noted that the average speed across their UK broadband base has increased again to 174Mbps at the end of Q4, while data consumption during the quarter increased 48% year-on-year. Virgin Media is also the largest gigabit speed provider in the UK, where their Gig1 service is available in 46% of their footprint representing 7.1 million premises.


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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.
Leave a Comment
17 Responses
  1. a welshman says:

    i thought that once they reached a percentage of the population they would have open up their network to other isps’ like bt did with openreach

    1. André says:

      Why would they do that? It’s private infrastructure built with private money.
      Openreach was built with public money, hence them being forced to open to competition.

    2. Darren Reid says:

      BT was sold off in 1982. The government may have built some of the network but it has been a long time since the government was involved.

      BT have to open up due to market dominance. Not because they bought assets off the government. That’s like saying you bought a council house so you’re still subject to council restrictions on who it can be rented to.

  2. Thomas Collingson says:

    It’s all gone very quiet with their Gig1 rollout to more places, I would have expected a few more towns & cities to be added today to be included in these results.

    If they are going to keep to their end of year target there is a lot of announcements to be done.

    1. Jon says:

      Agreed – I’ve been waiting for our area to go live so we can renegotiate our services since we’re out of contract, but it’s looking less and less likely that it will be any time soon.

      I’m now wondering if we’ll see City Fibre (who have been silent since announcing in November that construction in our area would commence as of December) or Gig1 will go live first!

      It’s like a really boring race of who can be the slowest and provide the least information…

    2. aqx says:

      Most likely will their goals changing slightly to handle the network such as faults & fallouts they may have slowed down their 3.1 rollout until lockdown restrictions are eased that way they can resume BAU as currently a lot of things such as installs & additional installs have been postponed where deemed unnecessary

  3. Chris says:

    Do you know how what percentage (even roughly) have taken up their Docsis 3.1 package, Mark?

    1. AQX says:

      I don’t see that nmber in their report so I doubt Mark will know either as I don’t think VM would bother publishing it, would make for a good read on how much it cost to lay and how many people have it. An area by area cost to rollout vs ROI from people using it would also be interesting. No hopes though

  4. AWX says:

    Looking at the Virgin Media Networks Limited company, going to Persons with significant control seems to show “VMed O2 UK Limited” so I wonder if this is just a way for them to share Virgin/O2 networks or such..

  5. Matt says:

    Update still not hear ffs hurry up there taking so long what do thay even have to do to get the area up to 1gbps

    1. JP says:

      Why the rush for a totally lopsided Gigabit service is beyond me, the ego of putting out a speed test result is stupid, and it always quite a sight to see an ego dented when the Gig1 service lands and the customer cannot get it to 1Gb/s

  6. Mit Shah says:

    While they have grown, have you seen the appalling speed that you get on Virgin media broadband now? Utterly incompetent service.

    1. Jon says:

      That’s a bit of a generalisation – many people (including me) get the full speed they pay for, and don’t have any issues.

      In 10+ years using Virgin Media, I’ve never had poor speeds or congestion – same for a number of people I know.

      Obviously, there are areas with issues, but that is the same for any ISP.

      What I will agree on is that their customer service is utterly dire, but that is a general statement that applies to most of the UK ISP and telecoms market with the exception of a small selection of niche providers.

    2. MikeC says:

      I agree with Jon, speeds been solid since I joined them in 2011 @ then 10mbps. Had issues with their own hubs in the past, but since using my own, never looked back.

    3. JP says:

      @John – “Obviously, there are areas with issues, but that is the same for any ISP. ”

      That’s a bit of a generalization isn’t it, I can’t say I’ve seen any familiar to what I’ve seen with Virgin Media when it comes to other providers, i say this out of experience of course.

    4. Bruceylegs says:

      Jon – Read the article “Virgin Media Speed Woes Lead to Customers Borrowing WiFi” on this website, especially the comments section and check out the #losingmyvirginIT hashtag on Twitter. Mit’s comments can’t be dismissed as a generalisation, as much as Virgin Media would like us to do so.

      Also, I’m keen to read equivalent evidence for the other providers you have in mind.

  7. Stewart says:

    Got a letter back at the start of first lockdown saying Virgin Media wanted basically permission to dig up the street and once they have enough people respond they would begin works here and haven’t had any progress in the last 10 months still no sign of any network despite the next town down the road getting there network which I can see from my house anyone know what the score is with that I’m guessing either delayed cause of Covid or not enough response

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