Virgin Media trial demos multi-gigabit upgradeable bandwidth

Virgin Media trials optical networking technology that could pave way to faster internet connectivity that is easier to upgrade

Virgin Media has conducted a trial of network acceleration technology, which it claims could pave the way to multi-gigabit broadband speeds in the future.

The trial, delivered on the operator’s network in Reading, saw Virgin Media install prototype Infinera XR Optics technology in its network. The new equipment plugs into the existing network and is able to send and receive data at much higher speeds than was previously possible, reaching transfer rates of up to 400Gbps in a single fibre. 

The company did not make any changes to home connections as part of the trial. Instead, it investigated improvements to the access network, which is used to provide connections to many customers. Virgin Media said its customers in Reading could get speeds of up to 1.1Gbps.

Jeanie York, chief technology and information officer at Virgin Media, said: “Our next-generation network already offers gigabit connectivity to more than seven million homes, but with data use and demand for hyperfast speeds surging, we’re continually investing in our network to prepare for whatever the future brings. 

“Innovations like this ensure our customers continue to benefit from the UK’s fastest widely available speeds, pave the way for future network upgrades and help support the roll-out of multi-gigabit broadband and mobile services.”

Fibre-optic networks transmit data from one point to another through a series of electrical switches and optical transceivers. These optical transceivers control where the information is sent and at what speed, ultimately determining how fast data can be sent from one point to another.

“Our next-generation network already offers gigabit connectivity to more than seven million homes, but with data use and demand for hyperfast speeds surging, we’re continually investing in our network to prepare for whatever the future brings”
Jeanie York, Virgin Media

Traditionally, optical transceivers provide point-to-point optical links. Infinera optics said its technology is different to conventional optical technology as it uses a hub and spoke network topology to aggregate bandwidth. In many networks, particularly metro networks, traffic flow is typically point to multipoint, with connectivity between a set of lower-capacity sites and a smaller number of higher-capacity hub sites.

Infinera said its optics technology was designed specifically to address this asymmetry, by using what it describes as “coherent optical subcarrier aggregation”. In effect, Infinera’s technology optically aggregates the traffic from multiple lower-capacity XR optics modules into a single, higher-speed XR optics module at the hub. It claimed that this reduced the number of optical modules in the network by almost 50% and could eliminate the need for expensive intermediate aggregation devices.

“The trial with Virgin Media provides a solid proof point that Infinera’s XR optics technology can be seamlessly applied to existing networks,” said Infinera’s chief innovation officer and co-founder, Dave Welch. “This represents a radical shift in the way networks can be built, promising a more flexible and sustainable way to meet the ever-increasing need to transmit more data at higher speeds.” 

In 2019, Virgin Media trialled 10Gbps symmetric full-fibre home broadband technology in Papworth, Cambridgeshire. This latest trial goes further, it said, by showing how Virgin Media’s passive fibre-optic access network – which provides multiple premises with full-fibre connections – could deliver 400Gbps symmetrical services by making use of the latest technology. 

By using standard passive optical network technology, Virgin Media said the transceivers could support higher speed data transfers and were able to be upgraded and configured remotely. This allows the network operator to make changes quickly and easily, paving the way for simple upgrades to consumer services in future.

According to Virgin Media, this technology could help support the rapidly growing demand for data, which is being driven by high-quality video streaming, remote working and immersive entertainment, as well as the need to carry 5G traffic to and from mobile phone masts, as well as other emerging bandwidth-intensive technologies. 

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