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Virgin Media UK Hails PIA and Rapid FTTP Rollout in Swadlincote

Friday, March 26th, 2021 (11:15 am) - Score 3,600
virgin media engineer connecting fibre optic cable

Cable ISP Virgin Media UK has today announced that they were able to complete their roll-out of a new Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network in Swandicote (Derbyshire) “much faster than would have otherwise been possible,” which was done by combining three engineering methods in one location.

The town of Swandicote is interesting because the local FTTP network for 4,000 homes was originally built in 2015 by Sky Broadband as part of a trial, although it was eventually abandoned and Virgin Media ended up acquiring it from Sky in mid-2019 (here). At the time VM said they were “just in the process of carrying out the required works and aim to have premises connected by the end of summer [2019].

Since then, the operator has continued to expand the coverage of their local network. In the latest development they were able to combine three engineering methods to speed up the rollout. This included their existing narrow trenching method, as well as installing new fibre in existing underground ducts and overhead using Openreach’s telegraph poles (PIA – Physical Infrastructure Access).

This meant [we were] able to connect homes and businesses to ultrafast broadband services much faster than would have otherwise been possible. The scheme went from planning to delivery in just four months – far quicker than is normal for a project of this size – and was delivered with disruption and digging minimised for local residents,” said a spokesperson.

Virgin has used aspects of PIA on a number of other occasions before (here and here), although they’ve not previously combined all three of the aforementioned approaches in a single location. The operator added that its use can result in “significant cost savings” (i.e. expect them to use a lot more PIA).

Hugh Woolford, VM’s Regional Director for Yorkshire and the East Midlands, said:

“This latest engineering feat in Swadlincote demonstrates how Virgin Media is finding new ways to bring our ultrafast services to even more homes across the UK with minimal disruption.

Ultrafast and reliable connectivity has never been more important and it’s vital we continue finding new ways roll out our services at pace so even more people can benefit from gigabit connections this year.”

The company will now continue to expand in the area, with the next phase of work set to begin in April 2021, and Swadlincote residents will soon benefit from Virgin Media’s gigabit broadband (DOCSIS 3.1) rollout, which it is bringing to its entire network of 15 million+ homes by the end of 2021.

As usual all of this forms part of their ongoing Project Lightning build, which has so far extended their network to cover 2.5 million extra UK premises. The operator’s original network was deployed using Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) technology, but the latest builds use FTTP via Radio Frequency Over Glass (RFoG) – both methods make use of the DOCSIS standard to harness the same consumer hardware.

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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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15 Responses
  1. Alex says:

    Good for them.
    Now that Virgin’s seen the light on PIA, maybe they can open up their massive network of ducts for others to use at a fair price too…

    1. NW London Person says:

      Fat chance. But one day Ofcom might require them to.

    2. anonymous says:

      Why should they?

      Many cable companies went bust digging their infrastructure during the 80’s and 90’s. Telewest and NTL now branded under ‘Virginmedia’ took high risk to get where they are today.

      They were not a state funded monopoly like BT, it’s their own private network. If they want to open it up for other operators, it should be their decision.

  2. Onephat says:

    Why would they? It was a network built using private money.

    1. Chris says:

      You’d think it was private money but ultimately it was our money that paid for VM, customers and tax payers alike.

      Companies take on debt either to pay for something or send money off shore. Another profitable company buys the first including it’s debt obligations. The new company can offset its taxes against debt from previous years. The treasury gets less tax which contributes to the nations debt. The new company refinances its debt to oversees companies paying exorbitant interest rates to a sister company thus further reducing tax and potentially artificially increasing costs passed on to consumers.

    2. 125us says:

      Yes, Virgin’s fire sale bargain came at significant cost to the exchequer.

    3. LPP says:

      So? BT was privatised in 1984 with lots of new duct and poles being paid for by them since but those are still included in PIA. The damage PIA is causing and is going to cause in the long run is an oversight by Ofcom. Many poles becoming unclimbable resulting in longer waits or no service able to be provided at all, ducts & junction boxes filled with 1 provider stopping all others including Openreach.

    4. CarlT says:

      Unless they did something illegal blame politicians.

      As far as I know they have just been using billions in tax credit due to the enormous losses they accrued in the early 2000s.

      Companies pay taxes on profit, not revenue.

      This is all normal. While they may not have paid corporation tax they have paid high levels of business rates and other indirect taxes.

      Where have Virgin, ntl:Telewest or the constituents taken loans at artificially high interest rates from other parties to avoid tax? Liberty Global was domiciled to the UK as Liberty Global plc when Virgin Media was acquired. Apart from that, done to maximise use of the tax credits VM were carrying, I’m not aware of shuffling money around any other way.

      VM’s interest rates on their credit are appropriate from what I can see? Consistent with similar businesses and borrowed and carried by the VM unit, not the holding company.

      This is also pretty standard stuff.

    5. CarlT says:

      ‘Yes, Virgin’s fire sale bargain came at significant cost to the exchequer.’

      What fire sale bargain? Are you claiming Virgin Media plc was sold to Liberty Global at a bargain price?

      Liberty paid £3k per connected property and £2k per customer including all mobile.

      The only acquisition action before that was the reverse merger of ntl and Telewest.

      There were debt for equity swaps way back when but these weren’t bargain basement, both companies were in severe distress and had to seek bankruptcy protection as they couldn’t pay the bills.

  3. Icaras says:

    I wonder if someone in that area could clarify if PIA has been used overhead to the house here?

    FTTP from an Openreach pole and then terminating in an RFoG converter. If not, you’d think that would be the logical next step?

    1. Matt says:

      No from what I’ve seen it’s all underground cabling. There are telegraph poles but pretty sure they’re BT. (vdsl)

      BT were doing work on behalf of virgin laying fiber past the park. Which I’m happy for because although it’s FTTP, Virgin have been pretty unreliable.

      I haven’t seen them pushing more rollout though. And we’re due BT FTTP “within 3 months” according to BT fiber first checker.(there’s no Fttp here – sky put this network in and it was very well received but I’m guessing they didn’t like the commercials when they decided to Abandon it). So I’m surprised virgin have not pushed before BT sort themselves out.

    2. Matt says:

      Just to add to the above. I’ve just had an email from BT that my address is “in plan” for FTTP. I’m kind of hoping they’ve moved to XGS-PON to compete with CityFibre 900/900 packages (though I doubt they’ll get close on pricing)

    3. Bob Kyoto says:

      I live there. The old Sky network is mostly on their own set of poles (Missy/Woodville). We have a lot of poles in the streets! Virgin are putting in a new network at the other end of the town(Church Gresley). Openreach are also putting in FTTP, our estate has had a few new poles put in to fill the gaps, presume it’s because fibre had a maximum span?

      We have aluminium and poor 12 Mbps speeds so FTTP will be a huge upgrade.

  4. Matt says:

    Is that from April works begin to bring Gig1 here? Or is that more premises covered from April and gig1 at some other point in the future?

    I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping the horrific instability has just been them trying to upgrade and expand the network quickly.

    City fiber would be nice to join the party though 🙂

  5. David Henderson says:

    PIA/DPA sound good in theory, However the experience for the end customer is far from it. I live in the outskirts of Warrington on an estate built in the mid 1990s. BT/ORs existing infrastructure is far from Victorian but is 30+ years old, like most estates of the time the is an inspection box circa 60m which expose ducting entry/exit points, in theory making it easy to rod new cable through existing ducting. All good so far. Until after Virgin Media sales cold call everyone on the estate door to door and get them excited about the prospect of FTTP and higher speeds, then expectant customer sign up in good faith, purchasing a bundled Oomph product. Are given an installation date, serve notice on existing suppliers, only to find there are issues installers find blockages, in my case none from nearest inspection chamber to my premise, but one 62m up stream beyond the next IC. Then the problem starts Virgin cancel my order without telling me. Countless contacts with them to find out, to be told that there was a budget for the install and it’s not cost effective to resolve the issue. Two neighbours who also signed up, one who has an additional blockage between our local IC and their premise are effected by the same downstream issue. As stated on other posts,OR//BT have no incentive to work with Virgin to resolve the issue. As to do so would mean that it would be easier for Virgin to acquire their customers. Yes, there are other copper based providers I use in preference to BT, but still going to be stuck with copper based services, like lots of people until an incentive to work together is put in place or when the slow paced BT rollout of FTTP reaches the exchange near me, when they will have to resolve the blockages.

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