Virgin Media Commits to Huge UK Rollout of Ultrafast FTTP Broadband - ISPreview UK
Cable operator Virgin Media (Liberty Global) has announced that their on-going £3bn “Project Lightning” network expansion will work to ensure that “at least a quarter” of the additional 4 million UK premises being reached by 2020 2019 are to be connected using ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology.

Project Lightning, which was first announced in February 2015 (here), will ultimately expand Virgin Media’s network to put it within reach of 17 million premises across the United Kingdom; equating to around 60-65% coverage of all homes and businesses (up from c.45% last year). Interestingly the completion year has also been moved forward to 2019 from 2020.

However until now it was expected that the vast majority of this would involve the operators existing Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC) infrastructure, which uses a mix of fibre optic cables and then copper coax lines in order to reach inside homes using EuroDOCSIS 3 technology (this will be upgraded to DOCSIS 3.1 in the near future).

The original announcement also hinted that some of the expansion would involve the use of Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) technology, which are Gigabit capable pure fibre optic lines (no copper coax) and this then gets converted into DOCSIS signals for end-users (the in-home environment) via an approach known as Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG). But until now we didn’t know how much of their roll-out would actually involve this method.

The move means that over 1 million of the extra premises will be able to connect to Virgin Media’s network via FTTP technology, which is about as close to future proof as you can currently get. This would also mean that Virgin “becomes the UK’s largest wholly fibre broadband network” and by “fibre” they actually mean pure fibre optic, for a change (BT has about 200,000+ premises passed with FTTP and Hyperoptic are believed to be at a similar level).

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“Our £3bn investment to bring ultrafast connectivity to more parts of the UK is not just about better broadband, it’s about future-proofing the country’s network infrastructure with the best and most modern technology.

While some companies talk a good game, Virgin Media is putting its money where its mouth is and laying fibre to the premise alongside our superior HFC network – delivering the fastest widely available broadband speeds.

In just over one year we’ve laid enough new cable to stretch all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats, reaching a quarter of a million more homes and businesses – and there’s much more to come.”
George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

“Backing firms that grow and create jobs is a key part of our plan to boost productivity and deliver economic security for working people. It’s fantastic to be at Virgin Media today to hear about their plans to create 500 new hig‎hly skilled jobs this year, and expand their ultrafast Internet service to 4 million new homes and businesses.”
Regular readers will no doubt note that Virgin Media has already started to roll out FTTP in Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire (example), with work also expected to start soon in West Yorkshire, Devon and East Sussex. During 2016 the operator expects to connect 500,000 new premises (mix of HFC and FTTP) and they will create a further 500 jobs in the UK.

The operator also claims that their roll-out, which is being supported by the Government’s UK Guarantees Scheme (this provides a sovereign-backed guarantee to help big projects access finance), could end up benefiting the UK economy by an estimated £8 billion (not least by creating 6,000 new jobs, including 1,000 new apprentices).

The announcement could also be seen as a response, or perhaps a challenge, to BT’s recent pledge to “significantly” boost their own roll-out of FTTP broadband connections (here and here). Crucially BT has yet to clarify precisely how much of their future roll-out will involve FTTP, with the bulk still expected to be deployed using 300-500Mbps G.fast technology.

At present Virgin Media’s HFC network can deliver speeds of 200-300Mbps (these remain the same over their FTTP / RFoG lines so as to deliver a simple service proposition), although top speeds could eventually reach 1000Mbps once DOCSIS 3.1 is introduced. Similarly BT’s FTTP can currently do 330Mbps and that’s also the starting point for G.fast, although BT are testing a 1000Mbps FTTP upgrade (currently only aimed at business connections).

Your turn, BT.