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By: MarkJ - 6 May, 2009 (8:52 AM)
UK ISP Virgin Media , which can already call itself a provider of the country's fastest nationwide broadband service thanks to its 50Mbps package , has stunned industry observers by starting a customer pilot to test real-world deployments of up to 200Mbps speeds via its latest DOCSIS3 technology!

Following successful lab trials, the pilot started last week in Ashford, Kent, and will build to 100 "lead adopters" who will have the unique chance to help test "the most advanced broadband service in the UK". Cisco will be providing the technology and support to help deploy the service.

Virgin Media will also use the pilot to test future online consumer applications, which includes High Definition Internet TV (HD IPTV), video conferencing, home surveillance and the ability to deliver applications and support for home IT needs through its network.

Neil Berkett, chief executive officer at Virgin Media said, "We’re really excited to be embarking on this journey of discovery. With the only true next generation network in the UK, we’re at the forefront of innovation and understanding when it comes to ultrafast broadband services and the 200Mbps pilot will give us further insight into how true ‘wideband’ services might be used by consumers."

The pilot will be running for at least six months before results are analysed to understand potential consumer usage and to assess the commercial viability of such ultrafast services. A significant part of the pilot will also involve assessing related in-home technologies.

Virgin Media will be working with a range of suppliers to help ensure advancements in broadband technology can keep pace. For example, to date, there are presently no wireless (Wi-Fi) routers able to deliver throughput of speeds at 200Mbps, and computers require very high specification in order to be able handle rates like that.

Typically Virgin Media has previously spoken about the lack of mainstream consumer demand for such services and thus isn't expected to launch a nationwide 200Mbps product just yet. Indeed if it did then the cost would be very high and could push the service into business-only territory.

Instead what today's announcement allows Virgin Media to do is claim yet another victory over its arch rival, BT, which has yet to even finish deploying up to 24Mbps ADSL2+ services let alone their plans for future 40 to 100Mbps fibre optic based products over the coming few years.

Presently J:Com in Japan supplies broadband at up to 160Mbps and Cablevision in the US supplies broadband at up to 101Mbps. Like Virgin Media, both companies use DOCSIS3 technology for broadband over cable networks.

UPDATE - 11:07am:

We've managed to gain some more little details from Virgin Media about its 200Mbps pilot. The testing will take place in Ashford because it was also the test-bed for 50Mbps, so the trials team are familiar with the test environment. Likewise pilot customers will not have to pay for the service (200Mbps for free, yes please!).

Testers will be chosen based on previous experience (working on 50Mbps trials) and some staff. There'll be lots of hardware on test with the pilot, from gigabit routers, to multi-channel wireless, and of course Macs/PCs. The pilot itself will be more about technology and thus it is too early to know whether a new traffic management policy will be tested.

Virgin Media informs us that they reached the full 200Mbps utilising 4 bonded channels during initial lab trials. We also asked them whether this move signified that Virgin Media were actively developing a roadmap for the introduction of a 200Mbps product:

Virgin Media told us: "Too early to say - key out-take is that with our new next-generation network, we are now in a position to drive forward UK broadband market, but also lead be right up there on a global scale to explore how such wideband services might be used in the future."

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