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Virgin Media O2 Name Trial Cities for UK FTTP Broadband Upgrade UPDATE

Saturday, December 11th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 15,312
virgin media o2 network engineer in datacentre 2021

Last month we reported that Virgin Media (VMO2) had begun trials in three cities to test their UK plan for upgrading existing Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) based network areas with Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband – using XGS-PON technology (here). The good news is that we now know the names of those three locations.

At present about 14.3 million of Virgin Media’s UK premises are covered by their older HFC infrastructure, while a little over 1 million can access their newest FTTP network. But as we first reported back in July 2021, VMO2 have a plan to upgrade those HFC areas to symmetric speed FTTP broadband by the end of 2028, using XGS-PON technology (here).

By utilising the company’s existing fully-ducted network (i.e. the tubes through which fibre cables can be laid), the cost of delivery is forecast to be around £100 per premises passed. But that excludes the usual final drop installation costs (after you make an order), which we think could be worth anything from around £50 to £100.

However, before that gets underway, VMO2 have decided to conduct a trial with 50,000 homes, which we’ve just been able to confirm is now underway in three locations: Stoke, Salisbury and Wakefield. The trials currently appear to be progressing well, and more information should be released as part of the operator’s next financial results (due early 2022).

The decision to include Salisbury is interesting because, in recent years, that city has also been quite closely associated with Openreach’s various all-IP network transition and FTTP deployment trials. VMO2 may well be keen to see what kind of impact their XGS-PON deployment has on the customer dynamic and competition in such areas, as well as what migration challenges it may throw up for existing subscribers, among other things.

UPDATE 21st Dec 2021

VMO2’s former Director of Infrastructure Engineering & Delivery, Mathew Tully, has just been named Director of Mustang FTTH at the same operator, which he confirms is the official project name for the operator’s FTTP upgrade programme: “Mustang is Virgin Media O2s full fibre rollout of its existing 14 million homes by the end of 2028 … It’s a significant challenge, and I will be building a team to deliver throughout 2022, ahead of completing the programme in 2028.”

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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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46 Responses
  1. Hungry Dog says:

    Now then. Salisbury is an interesting choice…

    Thought they may want to tussle it out with CityFibre in one of their build cities instead. Perhaps that would be too easy.

    1. Tom says:

      Salisbury is a BT trial exchange for full fibre and copper stop-sell. A good place for VM to start if they want to retain market share and speed parity?

    2. anonymous says:

      Yeah Salisbury is one of the first exchanges to go full fibre by Openreach, its HFC network isn’t great either.

      Stoke was shelved by CityFibre but has a fair amount of coverage from VXFiber with more to come. Also dubious HFC network if I recall correctly.

      Wakefield the HFC network is pretty dilapidated and is surrounded by VM FTTP – Wakefield and the Five Towns, the city itself received HFC a while ago, the Five Towns have had FTTP builds from VMO2, so the Wakefield hub site is good to go for FTTP. Wakefield has also received relatively little love from Openreach, CityFibre haven’t broken ground yet and no other altnets have any coverage besides a few Hyperoptic buildings and an OFNL estate.

      They wanted 3 different types of original network topology and from there places that were strategic. Salisbury is keep up with Openreach, Wakefield is filling in a donut of FTTP, all of them would need significant investment in HFC to provide capacity.

  2. Zed says:

    How will they achieve this for just £100 per home passed, when Openreach are quoting £250-£350, and altnets even higher?

    1. Meadmodj says:

      OR is an average of urban and rural, OH/UG/Directly buried and older duct/plant. Also VM are in total control for changeover. OR has to maintain their copper, FTTC and Full Fibre in parallel with long delays. In addition it is not clear what network design VM will use. They already have fibre to their main cabinets which can be upgraded for speed and as they have power can use remote OLTs. They also have the option to maintain their current products and implement XGS-PON to a percentage of their customer base and augment based on demand until they cut over.

      I think VM are in a very good position.

    2. occasionally factual says:

      In addition to @meadowj’s excellent answer, Virgin have no qualms about just stopping to build when it gets difficult or expensive to expand their network. There are many not spots in their current cable based deployment where people are encircled by VM but their little area/streets are ignored.

    3. Winston Smith says:

      It will be interesting to see how they design the fibre network as the topology will be limited to a degree by the existing ducts.

      Will they use the existing cabinets at all or build new and decomission or re-purpose the old cabinets as 5G hubs/EV chargers etc.

    4. anonymous says:

      ‘Will they use the existing cabinets at all or build new and decomission or re-purpose the old cabinets as 5G hubs/EV chargers etc.’

      All the above. Where there’s room for the equipment existing cabinets will be used, where there isn’t they have to build new or extend existing.

      Remember that they have to leave the HFC in place, can’t decommission anything during this build.

  3. anonymous says:

    The best decision from VM in a long time.

    Dump DocSIS and go proper fibre. DocSIS 4 is expensive to roll out, still has worse latency than FTTP (because of RF to optical nature), and is proprietary to legacy cable networks.

    Lets hope they get traction as quick as possible to get as many done before 2028.

  4. Bilal Habib says:

    Would be great if BT ever start to XGS-PON for residential lines. If they don’t sort it out I’ll go back to Virgin Media once they’ve rolled out their XGS-PON

    1. David says:

      Why? XGS-PON doesn’t necessarily mean higher speeds for customers. The biggest advantage is cost saving for the ISP through higher splitter ratios.

    2. Meadmodj says:

      XGS-PON provides flexibility for multiple low tier, higher tier or both. OR will implement an overlay, it just depends on cost and I am sure their procurement teams are already active. Their priority will be to keep costs down to win BDUK tenders and increase overall coverage in competitive areas ASAP.

      The pressure is on the Altnets who are paying more for their kit and have a reducing ROI window before OR and VM reach their targeted coverage.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t live in a city. Guess i’ll be last on the list just like with Openreach

    1. anonymous says:

      There are plenty of market towns and villages with more full fibre than the city of Wakefield. The city is surrounded by towns and cities with extensive fibre builds in progress and has zero plans up until now for a comprehensive build.

  6. Ben says:

    What speeds will Virgin be delivering over their XGS-PON? Will this spell the end of their paltry 50Mb uploads?

    1. Tom Parsons says:

      Ben, so the way I understand it after having had a looky at one of these VM “FTTP” installations using real fibre, is that it goes into a magic box that then converts it into coaxial and then straight into the back of a superhub 4.

      Which means that even if it’s a 10Gb fibre cable into the customer’s home then you’re still going to be limited by DOCSIS. I’ll be happily corrected there if anyone knows better. But to me it seems a bit pointless installing a symmetric 10G link until they come up with a better solution than converting it all back into regular cable modem stuff.

      So I reckon VM might be the only people install XGS-PON without the capability to actually do the S part.

    2. anonymous says:

      ‘I’ll be happily corrected there if anyone knows better.’

      Sure. At the moment riding on that fibre is RFoG – Radio Frequency over Glass. XGSPON will run on the same fibre but terminate on different equipment at the customer.

      No DoCSIS involvement at all.

    3. Lexx says:

      But the equipment they use is a dedicated FTTPn (DOCSIS coxal node is at the house instead of 1-3 streets away so not shared anymore) the TV and broadband equipment is standard DOCSIS 3.0/3.1 cable tv/broadband cable modem

      So still a valid question are they still going to be limiting upload

    4. Tom Parsons says:

      Ok thanks for correcting me. if it’s not going into a virgin cable modem then great. I’d still like to know what the upload is. I have little need for the 500 I’m on now but I’d sure like more than 35 up.

    5. anonymous says:

      Trials are symmetrical, which is nice.

      Lee: totally irrelevant.

    6. anonymous says:

      Anyway to answer properly now I’ve some time.

      ‘But the equipment they use is a dedicated FTTPn (DOCSIS coxal node is at the house instead of 1-3 streets away so not shared anymore)’

      It’s not dedicated FTTP to a micronode, that’s on a PON that’s split up to 64 ways. That 64-way split is also combined at the OLT. The coaxial segment is no longer shared, it all happens on the optics and line cards.

      ‘the TV and broadband equipment is standard DOCSIS 3.0/3.1 cable tv/broadband cable modem

      So still a valid question are they still going to be limiting upload’

      Already said that they are not going to use DoCSIS for this XGSPON network. They can continue to provide cable TV over RF while using XGSPON for data if they wish, or they could go fully IPTV. The STBs do not use DoCSIS for 2-way services anymore they have a downstream RF tuner and use Ethernet/WiFi to a Hub for return path and IPTV.

      Tons of ways to deploy but either way how things happen over RFoG is nothing to do with the upstream data service. XGSPON uses different wavelengths and will not have the same restrictions as the RFoG.

  7. Entitled whinging babies says:

    VM have no obligation to serve you or anyone else.

  8. Tom Parsons says:

    10Gb down.
    50Mb up.

    VM superduper real actual fibre this time.

  9. Nigel says:

    Hi Mark,
    Thanks for yet another interesting article. I see that ‘the cost of delivery is forecast to be around ’£100 per premises passed But that excludes the usual final drop installation costs’. Has Virgin M given any idea of the alternative cost of upgrading the uplink to Docsis 3.1 direct from the customer’s premises? Obviously an inferior option to FTTP.

    If the costs were of the order of £20 to £30 say, a significant percentage of the estimated £100 FTTC costs, then the business decision/savings for Virgin M delivering FTTP is compelling as the customer helps pay for the final drop (competition allowing) if an upgraded service from coax to fibre is required. New installations will be FTTP as a matter of course. The theoretical/virtual cost to Virgin M for FTTC per premise ‘passed’ is £100 minus the cost of the non existent Docsis 3.1 uplink upgrade.

    I am sure that Virgin M has internal figures for a Docsis 3.1 uplink upgrade, but may be loathe to reveal them.

    Regards
    Nigel

    1. anonymous says:

      They’re being offset against the costs of upgrade to DoCSIS 4.0, Nigel, not 3.1 on upstream. That’ll be showing itself next year, though 100 Mbit/s is about as high as I’d imagine they could offer. More than that would probably need network upgrades and they aren’t going to do anything that’s not business as usual on the coaxial network.

      VMO2 placed the cost of 4.0 upgrade at £60 per premises passed. This will get fibre close to homes though of course the actual installs will have to be done on demand.

      XGSPON ONTs are way cheaper than 4.0 modems will be which also helps. When you think about the equipment they have to install either side along with the upgrades to the field network to expand usable spectrum for 4.0 it makes sense.

    2. anonymous says:

      Sorry, Nigel, citation for the £60 per premises passed cost of 4.0 – https://www.libertyglobal.com/virgin-media-o2-announces-2028-full-fibre-upgrade-plan/

  10. Steven Brown says:

    Loved the reply 😀

  11. Nigel says:

    Hi Anonymous,

    Many thanks for your very informative reply and the link to the Virgin M i.e. liberty global article.

    I certainly hadn’t appreciated that ‘XGSPON ONTs are way cheaper than 4.0 modems will be which also helps’.

    Regards

    Nigel

  12. Peach says:

    I’m still amazed that Virgin Media are allowed to use the PIA product considering their share of the market and the size of properties able to order their service

    1. Peach says:

      This wasn’t to suggest their upgrade on HFC is anything to do with PIA

    2. anonymous says:

      I don’t think Openreach can discriminate between customers in this manner. PIA is just another product.

    3. Peach says:

      I know what your saying but Virgin aren’t just any other altnet. KCOM is another strange one, I’d have thought they should have to open up their ducts and poles

    4. anonymous says:

      The cost to KCom of building a PIA solution was considered disproportionate to the amount of premises that would be serviceable through it.

      It would also be expensive for any company that wanted to use PIA there having to build a system for the sake of that relatively small area.

      When VMO2 cross the line into having Significant Market Power they will come under the same regulatory scrutiny. Until then they’re another alternative network.

      Perfectly possible they’ll never cross it given how builds are proceeding. More likely to see market liberalisation for everyone than SMP applied to VMO2.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Should have picked Halifac as cityfibre are starting fftp Jan 2022 (23 million investment)

    https://www.cityfibre.com/news/halifax-set-full-fibre-boost-cityfibre-announces-23m-town-wide-roll/

  14. Josh Welby says:

    I was speaking to a Virgin Installer
    the other day, they are going to upgrade everyone to Full Fibre, he said that Full Fibre actually means Fibre
    from the Cabinet to your Cable Router/Modem like what they have in Europe currently, so yes you will get 3Gbs downstream and upstream by that time

    1. henry says:

      Not by 2028. Their current plan is to *prepare* all areas by 2028. When they have been to your area, you can order FTTP (for a fee).

    2. Marek says:

      In Europe? There is a lot of cable networks just like virgin media/liberty global, being owned by liberty global or others companies.

    3. Roger_Gooner says:

      @Josh Welby: “I was speaking to a Virgin Installer
      the other day, they are going to upgrade everyone to Full Fibre, he said that Full Fibre actually means Fibre
      from the Cabinet to your Cable Router/Modem like what they have in Europe currently, so yes you will get 3Gbs downstream and upstream by that time”
      The coaxial cables between the optical nodes and premises via distribution cabinets will be replaced by fibre, and I’m expecting termination at an ONT (a bit different to the ones which VM uses) which will enable a router to be connected with an Ethernet cable. As for speeds: VM will decide that depending on various commercial and technical factors.

    4. Matthew says:

      Far as I know the fiber cable will be run to your house and then connected to a ONT box then a eathernet cable from the ONT BOX to the router that’s how my friends is connected in the USA as well he has full fiber just hope thay do it soon as I shuned bt full fiber to stay with virgin media got a discount for my loyalty as well about 60 pound discount at that very good of them and get full package as well top everything even a sim with unlimited everything all channels two TV boxes 1gbps the works was 120 now 63 thay rely wanted to keep me I guss been with them 7 years can’t wait for there full fiber

  15. AQX says:

    If they’re getting 80Mbps then they’re either doing a WiFi test or using a 100Mb called device.
    Judging by the fact you think VM should serve you, you never asked any actual questions to the apparent person.

  16. Contradiction says:

    Complaining about them not covering you almost daily is a weird way of showing how glad you are they don’t cover you.

  17. VN says:

    Our streetSM5 3AY) is surrounded by VM but they do not have any plans for us.I have contacted them several times but they just say ‘not in service area’.I have given up hope with VM
    I am hoping for OR to extend their Fibre network soon and I wouldn’t bother even if VM want to extend theirs.

    1. anonymous says:

      Your road is private, VM would have to get permission from every resident to build, and looks really expensive to build to as they’d have to go through carriageway for at least some of it due to no pavement.

      You are probably going to have to wait for Openreach, a big ask for anyone else to cover you.

  18. BenH says:

    How will VM continue to provide broadcast TV if moving away from DOCSIS?
    The implication from these network plans is a move away from RF completely to a GPON based network?
    As I understand it, VM’s digital TV is delivered by RF signals delivered to a STB (either via HFC or RFOG network at the edge).

    For current FHC deployments, comments so fat assume the coax be left in place and fiber only laid to homes when the customer orders. This being the case, at that point, how will the TV service be delivered if not via RFOG on the new fibre? A move to IPTV would require new CPE for the TV side.

    For current RFOG deployments, there is already fiber to the premises terminated in a converter box on the outside of the house. I understand that a XGSPON signals can coexist on this same fiber with RFoG.

    So is the plan to continue to deliver TV services via RF signals to customers, but just using RFOG across the board? If so, this suggests DOCSIS equipment will still be needed into the future to create the RF signals for the TV side.

    1. Matthew says:

      Iptv

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