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Virgin to add one million FTTP connections by 2020

Virgin Media embarks on a massive roll-out of FTTP broadband across the UK

Virgin Media has announced the largest UK roll-out of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband technology to date, pledging to connect one million properties in the UK by the end of the decade as part of its Project Lightning network expansion.

Up to now, Virgin’s network roll-out has deployed a hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) network consisting of a combination of optical fibre and co-axial cable technology. This is arguably not a true fibre network, as the fibre component is only providing the network backhaul, the same as it does on BT’s Openreach network.

However, the use of HFC has meant Virgin has been able to establish the fastest widely available service in the UK, clocking in at between 150Mbps and 200Mbps.

Having trialled FTTP in parts of Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire, Virgin’s new approach will see it bring FTTP to around a quarter of the four million homes and businesses it had previously said it would add to its network under Project Lightning.

Virgin claimed this would make it the largest FTTP provider in the UK, and that the project as a whole could bring up to £8bn worth of wider economic benefits to the UK economy.

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

“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.”

Work on the roll-out is set to begin later in 2016 in Devon, East Sussex and West Yorkshire. A technique known as narrow trenching will be used, where fibre cable is deployed mere centimetres below the surface of the pavement, bringing down the cost of deployment.

Virgin said it would also create 500 new jobs, on top of 2,100 created under Project Lightning so far, to support its revised goals.

Chancellor George Osborne commented: “Backing firms that grow and create jobs is a key part of our plan to boost productivity and deliver economic security for working people.”

Ofcom review

Virgin’s announcement comes two months after Ofcom announced new incentives for providers such as itself to accelerate the roll-out of FTTP broadband.

As part of this it is attempting to make it easier for network builders to get access to BT Openreach’s existing duct and pole infrastructure, although Virgin is not going down this path for now. A spokesperson told Computer Weekly it was focused on delivering expansion through building and using its own infrastructure.

Ofcom CEO Sharon White said she hoped that enabling other providers to deploy FTTP more easily, BT Openreach, which has resisted FTTP in favour of fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) and, could be shocked into action.

“If we can get to that position where others are laying fibre, that’s going to be the biggest incentive BT has to match them,” she said.

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