Virgin Media takes full-fibre to west Berkshire, launches Wi-Fi 6 hubs

Full-fibre contract between network provider and local authority aims to connect west Berkshire schools and public buildings to next-generation digital infrastructure

West Berkshire Council has awarded a contract to Virgin Media Business to supply full-fibre infrastructure to schools, doctors’ surgeries and public libraries across the county by March 2022. The project will see connectivity at more than 80 locations upgraded, with more than 26,000 school pupils able to benefit from next-generation connectivity.

The £1.7m project, funded by Thames Valley Berkshire LEP through the government’s Getting Building Fund, is being led by West Berkshire Council to deliver the full-fibre roll-out. It is being run by the Berkshire Digital Infrastructure Group (DIG), comprising the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and the six local authorities. It will improve digital infrastructure across the region, helping to keep local people and businesses connected.

Behind the award of the contract is the dynamic that Covid-19 has led to schools dramatically accelerating their digital learning programmes, which has caused challenges in harder-to-reach rural areas. Virgin Media said its full-fibre infrastructure will support digital learning and can power the next generation of connected services. The company added that for schools and other public sites, it offers the potential for them to benefit from gigabit speeds, and can support connections of more than 1,000Mbps.

The fibre infrastructure will aim to bring essential connectivity to schools across Berkshire, enhancing lessons, online training, cloud services and educational tools. It will enable schools to become digital community hubs and aid adult education and reskilling. Communities living near the upgraded schools, such as GP surgeries and libraries, will also have their infrastructure boosted, thanks to the contract.

The first 15 sites will start to be connected from January 2022, with more sites added later in the year.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that schools and communities need to be equipped with the latest technology – it’s not a nice-to-have but is vital to our prosperity,” said Alison Webster, chief executive of Thames Valley Berkshire LEP.

“The roll-out of full-fibre will not only keep our communities connected during times like this, but will also future-proof Berkshire’s economy, ensuring out capacity to attract and retain cutting-edge businesses from across the digital sector to life sciences and the emerging film and TV production sector clusters. We are delighted to be playing a leading role alongside our partners in connecting Berkshire, which has never felt as important as it does right now.”

Mike Smith, director of large enterprise and public sector at Virgin Media O2 Business, said: “This investment will bring next-generation connectivity to across Berkshire and help the region to thrive. With so many schools being connected, young people are set to benefit from the infrastructure they need to get ahead in the digital era.”

Just as it was announcing the Berkshire deployment, and in a move that could boost end-user experiences of its network significantly, Virgin Media also announced the launch of a Hub 5 Wi-Fi 6 router. The new device works alongside Virgin Media’s broadband network and is designed to power the next generation of connected devices, including modern smartphones, laptops and tablets.

As well as offering increased Wi-Fi speeds, lower latency and helping to reduce interference from neighbouring hubs and devices, it has been designed to support multi-gigabit speeds and comes with a 2.5Gbps ethernet port alongside three additional 1Gbps ports.

Virgin Media O2 is on track to deliver gigabit broadband speeds across its entire network of 15.5 million homes by the end of 2021. It recently demonstrated the power and capability of its fibre network by delivering next-generation 2,200Mbps broadband speeds to homes in Edinburgh and Birmingham in real-world trials.

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