Virgin Media pumps £3bn investment into UK broadband

Virgin Media makes major financial commitment to extend digital infrastructure to millions more homes and businesses

Virgin Media is to make a £3bn investment in its national broadband network infrastructure and plans to pass approximately four million new homes and businesses with its high-end 152Mbps product over five years.

It claimed that, by 2020, it will be able to supply 17 million premises with superfast broadband products – a third more than at present.

The investment, backed by owners Liberty Global, is almost double the £1.7bn funding available for the government’s BDUK roll-out with BT, and Virgin Media also hopes its plan, dubbed ‘Project Lightning’, will bring up to £8bn into the UK economy.

Liberty Global will fund the investment mostly through incremental borrowings, said Virgin Media in a statement.

“Together with this government’s roll-out of superfast broadband, which has now reached more than two million UK homes and businesses, this additional private investment will create more opportunities for people and businesses,” said prime minister David Cameron.

Mike Fries, Liberty Global CEO, said: “Our next-generation fibre-rich networks reach 50 million households across Europe, enabling our customers to discover and experience the endless possibilities of the digital world.

“After a record operating performance, Project Lightning is a significant investment that demonstrates the confidence we have in Virgin Media and the UK as a place to do business.”

Brand new customers only

Responding to criticism that chasing net new business could disadvantage Virgin Media’s existing consumer and business broadband base, Peter Kelly, managing director of Virgin Media Business, told Computer Weekly he hoped a rising tide would lift all ships.

“It will drive a re-architecting of our core infrastructure across the voice and data portfolio,” he said. “I do think existing customers will be getting better service.”

Kelly said Virgin Media already has one of the UK’s fastest widely-available consumer broadband products, with speeds topping out at 152Mbps, and said plans were already in motion to go to 200Mbps and 300Mbps.

Some business customers can already get 1Gbps, he added, and there was no reason why a consumer gigabit product could not be introduced in the future.

“When it comes to B2B, I have over 200,000km of fibre in the ground supporting the public and private sector. When it comes to the consumer, we are building out hybrid-fibre coax (HFC) infrastructure to the home, with fibre to the cabinet. Downstream fibre to the premises will be part of the programme,” he said.

Kelly pointed out that last year, Virgin Media had expected data traffic across its network to grow by 40%, but, in reality, it had grown by 70%, so it was a constant battle to stay ahead of the curve.

Consumers and businesses can register their interest online at Virgin Media’s website. Kelly added that clusters of high demand would influence where Virgin Media deployed its network in the future.

Network skills

The network expansion is also set to create 6,000 new jobs in the UK, both at Virgin Media itself and at its construction partners. These roles will span the UK, in functions all over the business, from network programming and engineering to sales.

It will also add 1,000 new places to its apprenticeship scheme, which has been up and running since 2008 and has already seen 1,000 new starters work their way into the business.

The four-year apprenticeship, which is open to school leavers from the age of 17, leads to a number of possible qualifications, from technical certifications to management.

“It’s great to see more ambitious, 20-somethings moving up in the company,” said Kelly.

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